( Courtesy Owyhee Produce )

Onion growers and shippers in the Idaho-Eastern Oregon District, like colleagues elsewhere, say they are finding practical use for multiple options in packaging that didn’t exist in years past.

Cost is one factor, said Kay Riley, partner with Parma, Idaho-based Snake River Produce and chairman of the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, a federal marketing order.

“A number of years ago on the foodservice side, there was a push for cardboard — everybody wanted boxes — but the cost of cardboard has increased twofold or more in the 10-15 years we’ve been packing in cartons,” Riley said. 

“So, the 50-pound mesh sack is the standard for most onion shipments. I don’t see it changing dramatically.”
Some retail clients — Costco, for instance — offer 10-pound bags, Riley said, “and that kind of business will continue to grow.”

Consumer packs also have popped up here and there across the retail landscape, Riley said.

“Everybody has their own little niche,” he said. “Some people have a 3-pound bag that has a handle, and that’s a niche for them, but it’s not something you see across the board.”

Idaho Falls-based Eagle Eye Produce is making a shift this year, as it will be the first season the company will buy mostly U.S.-manufactured packaging, said Marc Bybee, senior operations/productions manager.

“With threats of tariffs and our desire to support fellow U.S. business, it just seemed like a good time to make this move,” he said. “Hopefully it can prove to be sustainable and cost-effective for the future.”

Packaging costs are a major concern, and have been for some time, said Corey Griswold, COO of Hailey, Idaho-based ProSource Inc.

“Obviously, like every other industry or commodity, our packaging costs just seem to increase 6% to 10% annually, with the price of paper going up,” he said. “We’ve experienced that for the last several years and continue to.” 

ProSource still relies heavily on cardboard, Griswold said.

“We pack probably 35% of our onions or more in cartons for some of our foodservice business,” he said. “Packaging costs is definitely a concern on the box side of things.”

Costs are “more manageable” on the bag side, Griswold said.

“The cardboard thing creates challenges when you have customers that want boxes and you have to negotiate what the cost of that box is and it’s constantly rising,” he said.

When a customer wants product in cartons, there’s no way around it, Griswold said.

“For those customers that want a carton product, all you can do is pass that cost through,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but paper cost is something we can’t control. We can try and buy collectively with all the other facilities to shave off a minute percent doing that. That’s what it takes to break even on the box.”

Retailers use a lot of 40-pound stickered cartons, Griswold said.

The most popular packaging for onions remains “the classic net/tag and net/film bag,” and cost likely is a reason, said Jeff Watkin marketing director with Collinsville, Ill.-based packaging manufacturer Sev-Rend Corp.

“These configurations provide the lowest-cost options while providing an optimal environment for the product to breathe, providing extended shelf life,” he said. 

“These packages also use the least amount of packaging material per pound of product. The trends for these packages is to enhance sustainability by specifying a recyclable, all polyethylene composition.”

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