The Vidalia Onion Story: Trademarking an Ag Product

Roxanne Clemens, MATRIC Managing Director, (515) 294-8842;
Susan Thompson, Ag Communications, Iowa State University College of Agriculture, (515) 294-0705;
From "Agriculture in Action: Notes from ISU"

October 10, 2002

A new report from the Midwest Agribusiness Trade Research and Information Center (MATRIC) at Iowa State University traces the history of Vidalia onions from a single producer to a trademarked product, in hopes of discovering lessons suitable for Iowa crop growers.

"Declining commodity prices, changing consumer preferences and international competition have Iowa producers looking for alternative production and marketing strategies," says Roxanne Clemens, MATRIC managing director and author of the report.

"A common problem with specialty markets is that higher profits cause new suppliers to enter the market and any price premium quickly disappers," she says. "I wanted to look at how one group of farmers worked together to develop a market for a branded agricultural product, and the factors that contributed to their success."

The Vidalia onion story begins in 1931 when a farmer in Toombs County, Georgia, produced onions that were unusually sweet and mild. He sold the onions for a good price and other area farmers began producing the onions, too. By the 1940s, the onions were a hot commodity at farmers' markets around Vidalia, Georgia, and production increased dramatically.

In 1986, the Georgia Legislature granted Vidalia onions legal status as a trademarked product. The Georgia Department of Agriculture holds the trademark and registers producers each year. The state also collects license fees and royalties for use of the trademark on onions and other products such as salsas and barbecue sauces.

In 1989, a federal marketing order was approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that limits the production of Vidalia onions to 20 Georgia counties. Federal marketing orders are voluntary programs that help stabilize market conditions for fruit and vegetables by allowing producers to work collectively.

The marketing order also provided a mechanism for Vidalia producers to fund research and marketing programs. For example, shelf-life research extended storage capabilities for Vidalia onions by almost six months.

"It took many years to develop the current production and marketing systems for Vidalia onions," Clemens says. "But I think Iowa producers and processors who are looking for new crops and niche markets can gain something from the Vidalia onion story." The MATRIC briefing paper on Vidalia onions is available on the Web at