The onion industry is currently experiencing market prices the likes of which have not been seen for a generation.
As a global commodity the demand for onions has been booming since January to a point where it is now in serious danger of driving many contracted processors out of business. The British Onion Producers Association (British Onions) has brought together a task force to give some sustainability and provenance to the sector.

The British Onions PR campaign has been running for three years and in this time has seen double-digit volume growth at retail. This is an unprecedented result in such a staple market. However, the market for processed onion to food manufacturers is far from saturated by all things British.

British onion processing has for years been under immense competitive pressure from Eastern Europe and the Netherlands. The sector has been very much price- driven and has thus relied on a great deal of spot purchasing and insecure contracts. Spot purchasing, however, has this year turned the industry on its head. A global shortage of onions has seen market prices soar to astronomical levels despite one of the best harvests for years in 2009.

It is the first time in living memory that processing prices are far outstripping those paid by pre-packers. This volatility has led British Onions to reform its processors group to both help promote the benefits of British Onions to the food manufacturers as well as attract grower members to provide a much more sustainable future.

The market for a well managed, sustainable British onion supply chain into food manufacturing is vast and some retailers are already beginning to see the merits of provenance. It is important this potential is realised for the future of the industry as a whole.

Jonathan Tole, director, British Onions