The onions are very unique, with a mild, sweet taste and a high water content, which makes them especially juicy, something growers want potential new consumers to know.
“They just have to try it. That’s one reason we’re pushing for restaurants to use them, to help give people a taste,” Cavalli said.
Restaurant use is important, and it’s growing, Borer said.
“Restaurant use has increased regionally, and use is in various forms, either raw or cooked,” Borer said.
However, foodservice use is still a small percentage compared to retail sales.
There are some regional restaurants, both fast food and higher-end places, that feature Walla Wallas each spring when harvest begins.
Burgerville, a restaurant chain in the Washington and Oregon area, runs a big ad leading up to the onion harvest that features Walla Walla sweet onion rings. The ad includes a countdown to when the product is available.
“People sit on the edge of their seat waiting for those onion rings,” Fry-Trommald said.
Growers and marketers agree that the local market, both in foodservice and in retail settings, will continue to be the bread and butter of the Walla Walla deal.
“It seems to be more important every day as people try to focus on what’s good and local and healthy,” Borer said.