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A Fresh Take on Potatoes and Onions

What variety and innovation look like for two stalwart staples

In 2016, Mininger witnessed “a global oversupply like I haven’t seen in 40 years.” Since then, production has tempered and growers in the United States have made slight modifications to their plantings.

Innovative Packaging
Wada Farms was among many businesses working hard to remain on the cutting edge in terms of marketing and packaging, a key focus throughout the onion and entire produce industry.

While Vlahandreas acknowledges “there isn’t much you can do with the onion on the fresh side that hasn’t already been done,” Wada Farms is continuing down the path of innovation with a number of alterations.

Among the changes are reducing in-store pack sizes, working in tandem with grocers to make displays more enticing, and accommodating the changing needs of foodservice and retail buyers. Linear packaging of onions via its multiple-size Medallion sleeve pack, resulting in easier stackability and visual appeal, was one example of the approaches Wada Farms and other suppliers were taking to keep offerings fresh and attractive on supermarket shelves.

Packing to specialized wish lists from retailers, foodservice, or consumers, there are a wealth of packaging options. From sleeve packs, three-pounders, Euro boxes, smaller-sized easier-handling bulk bags, or cartons, each can not only drive sales but minimize product damage and waste. The shared goal by everyone in the supply chain was, in Vlahandreas’s words, “to make the onion more appealing” and “to treat it as we would an apple.”

Against this backdrop, U.S. producers are moving into a new reality of compliance and food safety with the implementation of new FSMA rules. “Life is not getting simpler,” remarks Mininger, referring to both increased regulation and the industrywide difficulty of finding legal, consistent, seasonal help.

Vlahandreas sees increased automation as the key to solving the labor issue. Adding to the cost of doing business are rising fuel and fertilizer prices. Another segment, transportation, is also under the microscope, particularly in light of last year’s hurricanes and the impact on shipping and delivery.

“The hurricane relief sidelined many trucks from the daily hauling schedule,” observes Potandon’s Schwartz. And in addition, he notes, “with the new electronic logger rules, it will compel the industry to improve our turnaround times at shipping point.”

For John Parr, founder and managing member of Fresh Start Marketing, LLC in St. Louis, MO, securing trucks is often daunting and “harder than it used to be,” he contends, surmising this is probably due to the higher costs incurred in the movement of produce. While there is no sure solution to the problem, he nonetheless remains optimistic about Fresh Start’s position in the industry. “Our business is growing a little bit every year,” he shares. “We’re having fun, and everyone’s making money.”