Economy brings a shift in Idaho-eastern Oregon onion business

08/17/2009 04:11:06 PM
Elizabeth Ashby

As more consumers elect to dine at home rather than at restaurants, onion growers and packers in the Idaho-eastern Oregon region are seeing a sales shift from foodservice to the retail sector.

“We have always had a desire to increase our retail market share,” said Sherise Jones, marketing director for the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, Parma, Idaho. “We have been so strong in foodservice for years. We grow large onions so the foodservice sector has been a favorite market, be we want a good balance. With the economy, it gave us an opportunity to do that.”

Grant Kitamura, president of Murakami Produce Co., Ontario, Ore., said some of the lost foodservice business was picked up by the retail sector. He said he saw about a 20% shift for the company from foodservice to retail last year.

Murakami is a partner with Potandon Produce and packs under the Murakami and Green Giant Fresh labels. Kitamura said he plans to make more contacts in the retail sector this year to make the best of the situation.

“It is a good time for us to address this different sector and pay attention to what the trends are. With the national label, we hope to make a real difference especially when it comes to retail. People are still eating onions, just not at as often at restaurants,” he said.

Kent Romrell, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said there is more demand for jumbos and mediums than there has been in the past because of the interest from retailers. He said he thinks many of the area’s onion growers are trying to reduce the overall size slightly to align more with these retail needs.

Kay Riley, general manager of Snake River Produce Co., Nyssa, Ore., said he has seen a definite interest in medium, yellow 3-pounders to complement the retail market. He also said researchers in the area are working on varieties more conducive to retail demands.

“I don’t think we are too far off from having a pretty legitimate long-day sweet onion in the market deal,” he said.



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