Upgrades Continue at Bland Farms on Several Fronts
Ever improving and adding to its facilities, Bland Farms LLC has completed more upgrades and has still more that will be done by the time it harvests its first Vidalia onion of the season.
“We are upgrading our packinglines,” said Michael Hively, chief financial officer and general manager of the firm. Existing lines are being updated and upgraded with new equipment and software, and six new drying rooms are being constructed. Those new rooms will add 84,000 bushels to the firms drying capacity, bringing the total across all its Vidalia facilities to about 250,000 bushels of drying space.
“Over the wintermonths, we completely refrigerated our dock,” so now the firm never breaks the cold chain once product is brought in from the fields.
“We process around 40,000 [bushels] a day,” said Delbert Bland, chief executive officer and president, adding, “Our storage capacity is around a million bushels” combined among all the firm’s facilities in Vidalia.
In addition to the facility improvements, Bland Farms has also upgraded its staff. Sarah Seebran is the company’s new marketing manager, Adam Blocker is a new salesperson “and we moved Richard Pazderski into” the role of director of sales and marketing, said Mr. Hively.
Planting was successful for the firm, with no problems and plenty of H-2A workers. “We were ahead of schedule on planting,” said Mr. Hively. “We finished five days ahead of schedule.” Bland started on Nov. 3 and finished Dec. 17. Vidalia onion acreage is “about the same” as last year with 1,800 acres in production owned by Bland Farms and another 1,300 acres for which it has exclusive contracts. About 200 of the acres are organic Vidalia onions, 200 are red onions and the rest are traditional Vidalia onions.
The red onions cannot be marketed as Vidalia onions under the guidelines of the marketing order, but they are sweet onions. “We should have a nice red crop this year,” Mr. Hively said. Mr. Bland added that the firm continues to “tweak” the red onions to further improve their sweetness.
Bland Farms is nearly entirely dedicated to the retail market, measuring its sales to that segment at around 96 percent. “We continually try to push more to retail,” said Mr. Pazderski. “That’s our focus.” He noted, however, “we have some great wholesale customers.”
Mr. Pazderski said that the firm is refining its marketing message. “We are trying to be more focused in our message and to get our customers to know that if you have a yearround program with us, you know you are getting a consistent and sweet product. As a 52- week shipper, we want our customers to realize the benefit of having the ‘Bland’ label in their stores 52 weeks.” As a part of that effort, the company has developed and is implementing a newmarketing slogan: “When you see Bland Farms … you know it’s sweet.”
Along with marketing its onions, Bland Farms’ sales team is now handling the Vidalia Brands product line. Founded by Sandra Bland, Delbert Bland’s wife, the company, which has been acquired by Bland Farms, produces “about 14 different items” such as relishes, sauces and seasonings, said Ms. Seebran. One of the more popular of its products is a blooming onion kit, which contains a recipe, a tool to cut an onion for the recipe, batter mix and a sauce. domain name data
“Our customers can do some cross merchandising” with Bland Farms’ onions and the Vidalia Brands product line in the produce department, she said.
The products are exclusively made with Vidalia onions year round, using fresh onions in season are chopped and frozen Vidalia onions during the rest of the year.
Vidalia Brands products can be purchased from all Bland Farms salespersons, included on the same purchase order and can be shipped with the onions, saving buyers freight costs . “We listened to our customers about what they wanted — what worked and what didn’t,” Ms. Seebran said.