If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. For grower-shippers of Treasure Valley onions, that means sticking with their bread and butter: yellow Spanish sweets.
Ontario, Ore.-based Murakami Produce Co. expects to ship a similar mix of yellows, whites and reds this season, said Grant Kitamura, president.
About 92% of the onions the company ships are yellows, he said.
While the variety mix hasn’t changed much in recent years, Murakami does continue to talk its growers into changing their thinking on size, Kitamura said.
“We encourage them to grow more mediums and small jumbos,” he said.
The reason? Retailers prefer smaller onions, and Murakami has its sites on boosting its retail portfolio.
“We’ve been attempting to get back more retail — people aren’t eating out as much as they did before,” Kitamura said.
Growers have worked well with Murakami on transitioning some acres to smaller sizes, a trend that began about three years ago.
White acreage is about the same this year for Nyssa, Ore.-based Snake River Produce Inc., but red acreage is up, said Kay Riley, the company’s general manager.
“One particular grower did very well” with reds in 2010, leading to the increase for 2011, Riley said.
Most of that red growth is foodservice-driven, he said. Restaurant business continues to make a recovery from the economic downturn.
“There are individual chains that are still struggling, but it’s coming back,” Riley said.
“It may not be what it was, but in general, (Snake River’s foodservice business) has been pretty good.”
A lot more reds are being sold now compared to previous years, said Bob Komoto, sales manager for Ontario-based Ontario Produce Co. Inc.
But since reds and whites still make up such a small percentage of the Treasure Valley volumes, they leave sheds in mixer loads only, Komoto said.
“I don’t think anyone sells straight loads of reds,” he said.
“In the overall big picture, things haven’t changed much. Reds and whites are still quite small.”
Parma, Idaho-based Champion Produce Inc. expects to ship a similar mix of onions this year, said John Wong, sales manager: 85% yellows and the rest divided between reds and whites.
“A lot of our business is foodservice, so we’re pretty well dialed-in” on variety selection, Wong said.
Some upper-end restaurants still haven’t returned to their pre-recession sales levels, Wong said, but fast-food and family restaurants seem to be doing fine — and are using plenty of onions.
“The restaurants we deal with, the numbers have been very good,” he said.