(Dec. 5) Onions and potatoes have the advantage of staple status, which gives them an edge in fighting for space on restaurant menus and at retail, shippers said.

"We're trying to hit everyone hard, both on foodservice and retail," said Chris Woo, sales manager at Murakami Produce Co., Ontario, Ore. "Same as it's always been."

Looking for creative menu ideas for staple products isn't difficult, said Bob Hale, president of River Point Farms LLC, Hermiston, Ore.

"They're all creative," said Hale, whose company ships onions year-round. "I mean, there's some new and interesting things in the frozen category. Appetizer items with different cuts of onions are battered and deep-fried. There's some growth in that sector."

River Point supplies the Subway restaurant chain, among others, Hale noted.

Onion and potato marketing agents often turn to chefs for help in developing new recipe ideas.

"We work that one very hard," said Tim O'Connor, executive director of the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board. "We're in the third year of bringing targeted chefs from major restaurant chains to the Culinary Institute (of America at Greystone, St. Helena, Calif.) and give them a two-day intensive seminar about potatoes and allow them to work with the culinary institute chefs and some external celebrity chefs that we bring in."

It's an intensive learning experience for the visiting chefs, O'Connor said.

"They go away from that experience, having worked in that environment, to look at potatoes differently, to understand potatoes differently, and having prepared a variety of different potato dishes, we are seeing some new things going on menus."

The seminars usually yield productive menu ideas, O'Connor said.

"There are a lot of things in development right now from chefs who've attended seminars and who are in the process of taking ideas that they developed and turning them into products," he said. "That does take some time, but we can identify today seven new products on menus as a result of those seminars. There are quite a few more in the pipeline."

The Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista, recently held a chefs conclave with similar goals.

"We're really focusing on trying to come up with more ideas on how to serve potatoes in a more convenient method, maybe using the microwave oven," said Jim Ehrlich, the committee's executive director.

"We actually had a bunch of chefs coming into town, working with them on a field-to-restaurant approach. We got some ideas from them and shared some recipe ideas with them," he said. "We're working hard on that, trying to get people to eat more potatoes when they go out to eat -- and they're going out to eat more and more."

Some organizations are more advanced than others in marketing to the foodservice sector.

"That's something we're looking at but have not yet put that first step forward into developing those relationships," said Matt Harris, trade director for the Washington State Potato Commission, Moses Lake.

"We are looking at different shows that cater to the foodservice industry," he said. "We do attend the NRA (National Restaurant Association) show and the Western (Foodservice & Hospitality) Show in L.A. We're also looking at possibilities of the potential in Las Vegas. It's a booming consumption area for gaming and an event, so we want to make sure those fine restaurants in Vegas are aware of our potatoes."

The East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers Association also will make its first-ever trip to the NRA's annual trade show next spring, said Ted Kreis, marketing director.

"We're going to hire a local chef go with us," he said. "We'll be preparing some dishes and sampling them at the show."

The organization had a similar program at the recent Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit 2007 in Houston, Kreis said.

Uniqueness is a key to selling product to foodservice, said Tim Seit, promotions director for the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Inc.

"They're looking for colorful food that isn't just the same old thing," he said. "Some companies are selling two to three times more fingerlings … and restaurants are looking for a combination of great-tasting potatoes that are visually pleasing."