Bland Farms Working With World Series Champion Will Smith
Troy Bland, CEO of Bland Farms, described Vidalia onions as “the girl we brought to the dance,” as it’s almost 50 percent of what the company does.
“They are the foundation for the sweet onion category and Bland Farms,” he said. “We are in Peru and Mexico, too, so we can offer a year-round supply of sweet onions, but Vidalia is our favorite girl. It is the main driver for the category.”
The company started growing vidalias in 1982 and currently have 2,000 acres in the ground, supplying approximately 30 percent of the overall market.
“My father was a big part of growing the Vidalia name across the U.S.,” Bland said. “He was one of the pioneers in the industry. The foundation they laid began to pay off in the 1990’s and Delbert stood out as the biggest Vidalia cheerleader. His marketing ideas, like promoting this regional sweet onion nationally via mail order, catapulted the category and Bland Farms to the industry leader it is today.”
In fact, Bland Farms is one of the largest growers, packers, shippers, and marketers of Vidalia onions today.
One of Bland’s favorite sayings is, “You can’t bag onions by yourself.”
“There are a lot of moving parts that go into running a multinational company and being able to supply sweet onions 52 weeks a year,” he said. “We could not do it without our team of employees. What we do, day in and day out, takes a dedicated team, with every employee critical to our success.”
Things have been challenging in the category in recent years. Bland noted that after two years of issues because of the pandemic, 2022 has been challenging due to the aftereffects of the pandemic and the stress it has put on the supply chain.
“We started seeing supply chain issues at the start of the pandemic, which we were prepared for as resources were still plentiful,” he said. “In 2021, resources became thinner and it became much more challenging to manage, but that early preparation helped us. The pandemic shifted the consumer market, and it took time to adjust to that.”
For example, before the pandemic, Bland Farms could get a conveyor belt within 24 hours, but now it takes two weeks to get one.
“Hiring and retaining has also been an issue but we have been fortunate in that we have been able to maintain a stable team of dedicated employees throughout the pandemic,” Bland said. “It is an interesting time in the sweet onion field because there is so much turmoil in the yellow onion field. There is going to be tremendous pressure for sweets to take the place of some of the short comings in the crop out west.”
As for the upcoming crop of Vidalia onions, the team at Bland Farms is extremely excited about what’s in the field.
“The quality looks great now and we remain optimistic for a strong market this year,” Bland said. “However, every year is unique, and we expect new challenges. We do anticipate shortages due to supply chain issues and the rising costs of fuel, labor, and services, which will most likely have our produce aisles looking a lot different this year.”
This year, Bland Farms will be working with Georgia’s own, Will Smith, pitcher from the World Series Champion Atlanta Braves.
“Will is a Georgia native, so he knows and loves our Bland Farms’ Vidalia sweet onions,” Bland said. “The Blands also love baseball. The start of baseball season ties in perfectly with the start of Vidalia season.”
In 2021, Bland Farms implemented numerous changes including adding a new packing shed.
This year, it is working on fine tuning the operation so that the company becomes even more efficient and continue to deliver a quality product.
“We are looking forward to seeing it at full use and full capacity during the upcoming season,” Bland said. “The new facility has exceeded our expectations and has changed the way we process onions. This includes rearranging our planning and harvest schedules so that we are able to get out of the field sooner and bring in more onions. This allows us to have a more consistent supply a higher quality product throughout the summer.”
Bland Farms is also excited about its sweet potato program, with Bland noting it has the potential for growth through its Sand Candy partnership, which will allow the company to provide customers with a consistent and secure supply of sweet potatoes because of the diversified growing areas in North Carolina and Georgia.
“Sand Candy will also be able to provide full marketing and promotional services to their customers including in-store POS, social media, and customer specific marketing,” Bland said. “In addition, the company will be able to provide mixed loads of sweet potatoes and sweet onions.”