Quality, consistency and price are big sellers at retail, according to grower-shippers in the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion district.
“Retail is probably 60-70% of what we do,” said Dan Phillips, sales manager with Payette, Idaho-based Central Produce Distributors.
“You give them the quality and product they want. Under our federal marketing order, we can’t ship them unless they’re U.S. No. 1. Everybody is held to certain standards. You fulfill their needs.”
Having a specific variety that retailers want also is an advantage, said Kay Riley, partner with Parma, Idaho-based Snake River Produce.
“With retail, we have a sweet variety we call Snake River Sweets that we’ve been gaining some traction with,” he said. “We put them in a 40-pound box with a sticker.”
Snake River, which is heavily focused on foodservice, expects to do more retail business this year after having replaced packing and warehouse facilities that collapsed in heavy snow a couple of years ago, Riley said.
“With the collapse of our buildings, we haven’t had our consumer line operating, but we’ll have that set up this season and anticipate doing more of that type of business — 3-pound bags and such, to grocery stores,” he said.
The foodservice side of the business has its own challenges, Riley said.
“For one thing, with foodservice, manifests are varied, including colors, sizes and packages, so being willing to put these mixed manifests together, plus accuracy, you don’t want mistakes,” he said.
“Often, we’ll have 12, 13, 14 different items on a manifest on a truck, so being willing to do that and then doing it right.”
Quality is a major driver of retail business, said Corey Griswold, COO with Hailey, Idaho-based ProSource Inc.
“That’s what motivates retail buyers: consistency of quality and supply,” he said. “We can do that and are putting a very high-quality crop in storage.”
Emily Watson-Libsack, vice president of Parma-based grower-shipper J.C. Watson Packing Co., agreed.
“I think with retail, it’s all about consistency and delivery to distributors all the time every time,” she said.
“Working with people and we get them high-quality product and a full portfolio of offerings.”
“Execution is the key to success at both retail and foodservice, said Shay Myers, general manager of Parma-based Owyhee Produce.
“You have to have the depth,” he said.
“We’ve seen double and triple what they were last year. It’s coming through. It’s being able to execute when supplies are tight. It’s a challenge for everyone. We’ve been able to get it done, but it’s not been easy.”