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Peruvian sweet onion supplies expected to stabilize in coming years

by Lora Abcarian | August 18, 2010
Although exports of Peruvian onions grew by 38 percent during the 2009 season, volumes imported by the United States are expected to remain relatively stable in the coming years.

"It is not advisable to increase export volume this year," said Miguel Ognio, president of the Onion Subcommittee of the Peruvian Exporters Association. "[The] United States, which is the main market, is consuming more, and we must maintain the volume. Therefore, we must be very careful of not swamping any market. It would be dangerous for our products."

Mr. Ognio said that control of onion flow is expected to keep product prices high. Export growth cited during 2009 was primarily attributed to emerging new markets in Europe and Latin America.

Peruvian sweet onions are grown in arid conditions in the Andean country. Product has a low pungency level, and the onions are extremely sweet as a result. According to Michael Hively, chief financial officer and general manager of Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA, the Peruvian sweets are the closest in taste to domestically produced Vidalia, GA, sweet onions, a variety very popular with American consumers. Peruvian sweet onions are generally marketed from August through February.

John Shuman, president and director of sales for Shuman Produce Inc. in Reidsville, GA, said that Peruvian sweets are imported as Vidalia supplies clean up, giving consumers additional time to purchase sweet onions in the fall and winter months.

The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture released figures on the U.S. import value for products from selected countries in its Vegetables & Melons Yearbook Data / #89011 publication, which was released on May 20. According to the report, the value of Peruvian onions imported into the United States has climbed since 2007, when the value was $18.974 million. The import value dropped slightly in 2008 to $18.673 million, but rose in 2009 to $22.381 million.

On March 18, 2008, the American Chamber of Commerce of Peru provided some perspective about Peruvian onion exports that was revealing. According to AmCham Peru, the United States was the most important export destination, and the United States, Chile and Holland together received 86 percent of the country's worldwide onion exports in 2007.

On Feb. 22, 2010, Professor Jose G. Peña published information on imported Peruvian sweet onions in the publication Ag-Eco News. According to the report, supplies of Peruvian sweets in the United States from the 2009 crop were quickly drying up in February, and the value per 40-pound carton was $20 to $24.

On Feb. 2, Peru's Foreign Commerce Society, Comex Peru, said that all the nation's combined exports were valued at $2.24 billion in January. This represented an increase of 37.9 percent compared to January 2009. A 14 percent decline in exports during 2009 was attributed to the global financial crisis. Increases during 2010 were attributed to increased export volume in Peru's primary export destinations. According to Comex Peru, overall export volumes during 2010 are expected to return to 2008 levels.

According to the 2010 Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook, 20 percent of all Peruvian exports were sent to the United States in 2008.