Certified Onions Inc., a group of Treasure Valley onion shippers committed to comprehensive pesticide testing and certification, hopes to build on its recent success in finding export markets for valley onions.
“We have a couple of trips planned and budgeted,” said Kay Riley, general manager of Nyssa, Ore.-based Snake River Produce Inc. and manager of Certified Onions.
Pitching the food safety bona fides of Treasure Valley onions overseas has been a major focus of Certified, though the group does hope to attract more domestic customers as well. The group has tested more than 10,000 acres of valley onions since its inception, Riley said.
A 2010 trip to Asia paid dividends later in the season, when product began shipping, Riley said.
“We shipped to Japan last year, and they seemed to be very well-received,” he said.
In November, officials from the Oregon Department of Agriculture will make a trade visit to Asia, Riley said. That could be the first of Certified’s overseas visits for the 2011-12 marketing season.
“There’s been a lot of interest in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as Japan,” Riley said.
The domestic marketing campaign will feature a larger presence at this fall’s Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention in Atlanta, Riley said.
“We’ll try to make a bigger splash at PMA,” he said.
New this year, Certified will send marketers from its member companies out on marketing calls, Riley said.
Grant Kitamura, president of Ontario, Ore.-based Murakami Produce Co., recently joined the Certified board. He said the organization has thus far been successful in convincing export partners of the safety of Treasure Valley onions.
That’s not always an easy task, particularly among importers in one important part of the world, Kitamura said.
“Those guys in Asia are very wary,” he said. “Testing adds a lot of confidence.”
The Japanese, in particular, Kitamura said, have been impressed with the food safety efforts of Certified.
About 80% of the valley’s onions are now tested, and 95% of shippers are GAP-certified, Kitamura said.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve, to show the world we are concerned about food safety,” he said.
John Wong, sales manager of Parma, Idaho-based Champion Produce Inc., said Certified Onions had a very successful year last year, and he expects a repeat this year.
Export possibilities could be especially strong in Japan, whose 2011 crop has been affected by cold weather at the beginning of the season and by hail, Wong said.
How many Treasure Valley onions Canada and Mexico may take, however, remains to be seen. It all depends on how their own onion crops fare.
“They’re hard to read,” Wong said.
“We often don’t learn about opportunities (in Canada and Mexico) until three or five weeks ahead of time.”