New Zealand growers started exporting onions in the 1960’s shipping small volumes – up to 15,000 tonnes until the mid 1970’s, when Japan began importing NZ grown onions.
The Japanese market became a very important market buying 50,000 tonnes of NZ onions at the peak in 1984. In the mid-1980’s Japanese growers supplied increasing amounts of domestic requirements and New Zealand growers had to develop new markets.
The focus turned to European markets and the development of the United Kingdom market, where New Zealand has become one of the leading onion suppliers to these markets. The New Zealand industry invested heavily in research and development to produce high quality onions with strong storage characteristics that are capable of reaching these markets in sound condition.
In recent years there has been a big shift towards exporting to countries in Asia. In particular Indonesia and Malaysia.
The New Zealand onion industry has been innovative selecting varieties that meet customer’s requirements, storage needs and meet demanding quality parameters, especially in regard to colour, uniformity and storage life.
The export onion industry has undertaken research and development on a range of issues from production to shipping and quality. Onions have a long shelf life and are sea freighted to export markets in a range of sea containers and in bulk in charter vessels. The two main types of storage onions grown in New Zealand for export to these markets are brown onions and red onions.
Over the past 5 years onions have always been the top exported fresh vegetable, except for in 2012 when NZ had a poor growing season. The exports of onions bring back around $100m per annum to the growers and the wider industry.