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IEOOC prepped for 2020 foodservice opportunities

chefchef Counting the days until 2020 onion harvest and shipping season kick off in the Treasure Valley, most Idaho-E. Oregon onion industry members have made good use of the “time off” this summer to enhance their programs and bolster customer relationships in foodservice.

Traditionally, late July has also brought the PMA Foodservice Conference and Expo in Monterey, CA, and the Idaho-E. Oregon Onion Committee and Southwind Farms have for many years sponsored a VIP Brunch. Herb Haun, chair of the Oregon Onion Committee’s promotion committee, said, “We’ve always looked forward to PMA Foodservice Conference, which is an excellent venue, is very well attended and allows us to connect with our customers.”

Haun said in early July the Association’s response to COVID-19 by switching to a virtual event has brought out the creativity of everyone this year. “We appreciate PMA getting ahead of what otherwise might have been a more difficult situation. They’ve worked hard to provide a virtual space for us all to connect, and we will support PMA as in the past and look forward to a live event in 2021,” he said.

At the same time PMA industry members were developing their presentations for PMA Foodservice DELIVERED online, in the Treasure Valley famed Spanish Sweets planted earlier in the spring were sizing under very good growing conditions. Area shippers were performing regular maintenance and/or installing new technology in the sheds, and the Idaho-E. Oregon Onion Committee/USA Onions was working behind the scenes to create a fresh, new look both digitally and in print.

Regarding the crop, Haun, who is part of the team at Haun Packing in Weiser, ID, said earlier in the summer that the onions were very healthy, and the Treasure Valley had seen “really good weather so far.” He noted at the time that water didn’t appear to be an issue. Acreage, he said, could be down slightly from 2019, but all indications were for a good season and yields.

Producing more storage onions than any other region in the nation, the Treasure Valley’s growers produce more storage onions than any other growing region in the nation on some 21,000 acres, growing yellows, whites and reds that trend to jumbo, colossal and super colossal preferred by foodservice. The average annual harvest is 24,000-plus carlots, and the shipping season generally from early August into March/April, although some sheds go longer.

This spring, shippers have responded to changes caused by COVID-19 by adjusting for different markets and also working with foodservice providers that were themselves adapting with take-out or other means of serving their customers.

And in June and July, as restaurant dining-in began to open up, Haun said onions were still prominent on menus. “There’s reason for optimism,” he said of the new season.

For its 2020 promotion program, USA Onions has upped its game this year, freshening the website for easier navigation and access to the shippers list.

The site also features great downloadable recipes developed for both foodservice and retail consumers as well downloadable point-of-sale materials and a full photo gallery.

The Committee’s newsletter, The Bulb, will publish six times in 2020 rather than quarterly, and it will also be available digitally. Sign-up for the free print and/or e-newsletter can be done on the website.

Haun said, “Because of the characteristics of our onions, we’ve always viewed foodservice as our lifeblood, and we continue to work on ways to help foodservice with opportunities and support.”

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