Foodservice is a major area of focus for onion sales and promotions in the region.
“I’d say we’re maybe 60% foodservice, 25% retail, and the rest goes to processing or wholesalers,” said Chris Woo, sales manager for Murakami Produce, Ontario, Ore., which packs onions for Potandon Produce, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
However, Woo said there has been a shift toward retail.
“We used to be a lot heavier on foodservice, but now we ship a lot to retail and a lot more go to processors who make onion rings and other products,” Woo said.
Other grower-shippers are also working on a slightly new balance of retail and foodservice sales.
“We are currently working on a growing program on a few acres that has been specifically designed to cater to the retail trade, and focuses on a smaller onion profile with high quality and long shelf life,” said Troy Seward, owner and president of Golden West Produce, LLC., Parma, Idaho.
Still, growers say the foodservice industry is key to their success.
“Foodservice is a shining beacon for us, just based on the consistency with which they can buy,” said Shay Myers, general manager of Owyhee Produce, Nyssa, Ore.
Sherise Jones, marketing director of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, Parma, Idaho, said the committee developed a recipe booklet of 10 new recipes focused on American comfort food.
“We have developed a full-color recipe booklet that provides beautiful photos and recipes that we feel will be well utilized by foodservice operators,” Jones said.
The recipes include grilled steak with blue cheese and onion sauce, caramelized USA Onion mac’n’cheese and caramelized red onion and apple grilled cheese,” among other new twists on classic favorites, Jones said.
Printed copies of the book will be available by request and by download from the committee’s website.
Other foodservice-related efforts are also in progress.
“Additionally, we have engaged the services of O’Brien Culinary out of Chicago, Ill., to build additional foodservice creations, which are due out in September,” Jones said.
The Committee also participates in foodservice promotions with individual culinary schools, associations and buyers, as well as culinary competitions to support for foodservice blitzes, looking for unique opportunities each season to support the industry.
One segment of the foodservice market that is seeing significant growth is the fresh-cut and processed side.
“We’re starting to support some regional fresh cut demand, as well as the whole bagged onions,” said Jon Watson, president of J.C. Watson Co., Parma, Idaho.
Instead of trying to compete with the processors that are beginning to serve some of the company’s foodservice customers, Watson has decided to supply them with raw product.
“We’re participating in the supply side to support the regional fresh- cut supply. We’re growing it, arranging it, and getting it to them, but we’re going to let them cut it to help them service some of the customers,” Watson said.
This trend is still in its early stages, according to some, but Jones said shippers are working to develop the business.
“Shippers are effectively building relationships with these processors,” she said.