Restaurants need onions, and New Mexico is there to kick off the summer dining-out season, growers, shippers and marketing agents say.
“They’ve very attractive to the foodservice industry,” said Wayne Mininger, executive vice president with the Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association. “They’re a solid feature on foodservice menus and have a solid position in the foodservice industry, as far as a demand item.”
Demand steady, although the mix of varieties available in restaurants has evolved, Mininger noted.
“Over the past couple of years, there’s been an increase in the usage of red onions,” he said.
James Johnson, vice president of Carzalia Valley Produce in Columbus, N.M., said foodservice demand for his onions has been steady.
“That’s some of our better business,” Johnson said. “They like a consistent supply and they seem to be more consistent on pricing than retail. So, we’re going to maintain our foodservice business and we’ll take the retail business as it comes.”
The economic downturn that has hit the foodservice sector the last couple of years has complicated the business somewhat, however, said Jay Hill, salesman with Hatch, N.M.-based Shiloh Produce Inc.
“Foodservice has been kind of a Catch 22 right now,” he said. “You’ve got some of the bigger guys, and some of their distribution centers are ordering half loads and stuff like that. In the recession, some restaurants are not making it. Some of the bigger foodservice companies, for prisons, schools, hospitals, are still pretty strong, but some guys are starting to feel a little bit of heat.”
Restaurants remain steady customers, too, Mininger said.
“They’re very attractive to the foodservice industry,” he said. “They’re a solid feature on foodservice menus and have a solid position in the foodservice industry, as far as a demand item. The mix of colors is probably fairly stable. Over the past couple of years, there’s been an increase in the usage of red onions.”
Steve Smith, owner of National Onion Inc., which is based in Pleasant Grove, Utah, but has an office in Las Cruces, N.M., said his restaurant-related business has been steady, as well.
“Onions get used about the same amount every year,” he said. “They’ll either eat them out of the store at home or they’ll eat them at a restaurant.”
The value-added business helps, he said.
“We do a lot of onion ring contracts, actually,” he said. “We have long-term contracts with onion ring manufacturers, and that kind of balances out the low markets. They look for certain onions and sizes. We focus on them for about half our crop.”
Marty Franzoy, manager/owner of Hatch-based Skyline Produce, said extreme cold during the winter growing season added further complications to the foodservice business.
“We didn’t contract anything, because we saw this coming,” he said. “A lot of people went and contracted what they could, but I think there’s less contracting this year than last year.”
Foodservice is a nice outlet for bigger onions, said Larry Barker, owner of Barker Produce in Las Cruces.
“It’s been good for us. It’s a chance to get rid of all the jumbos to some people like the Restaurant Depot,” he said.