From adversity comes opportunity, and such was the case with the fire that leveled the Rio Queen Inc. facilities in Mission, TX, last summer.
"We've rebuilt on the same spot, but we're bigger and better," said Gretchen Kreidler, who handles marketing and public relations for the longtime Rio Grande Valley grower and shipper. "We have built a facility is more energy efficient. For example, we have eliminated 60 different motors."
She said the facility, which houses the company's citrus sorting and packingline, has state-of-the-art equipment, including 19 new automatic bin-loading machines and an automatic palletizer. In addition, there are two employee lounges - one at each end of the building - and the entire facility is air-conditioned. "That is important in South Texas. It is only February 27, and we are going to come close to hitting 100 degrees today. Other areas might not need air conditioning, but we do. It's great for the workers."
The previous facility had air conditioned offices but the packinghouse was not.
The firm's onions are packed on the same property but in a separate onion packinghouse that did not burn down. Ms. Kreidler said that the first onions were harvested earlier in the week and will be packed for sale the first few days of March.
"I believe we will be the first to market with Texas onions this year," she said. "We're excited about that."
She said the firm is expecting about the same volume it had last year with the exception of an increased organic onion crop. "We did a little bit of organic production last year, and this year we have added some more acreage and created a new bag. We are going to be shipping the organic onions in a three-pound consumer bag that is going to have a GS1 data bar sticker. We're proud of that. We will pack medium-sized onions and it should make a very nice, alternative pack for some customers."
She said the organic acreage is still limited, "but we have set aside additional land for organic onions so we can grow as the demand grows."
This year, Ms. Kreidler said that the firm expects most of its organic production to be snapped up by just a few retailers. "We ship pretty heavily into California and also locally, so that's who we are targeting for the organic packs. A lot of our customers carry organic produce and that's who we expect to sell to."
The company offers a full line of sweet Texas 1015 onions as well as red and white varieties. For the 2009 season Rio Queen is offering no new packs but will custom pack in whatever container its customers request.
"We do 40-pound cartons, we have a 10-pound carton, the three-pound organic bag and we also have a two-pound mesh bag. We will do whatever our customers want," she said.
Ms. Kreidler said that not only would Rio Queen be the first onion shipper in the deal, it would also be one of the later shippers in the deal.
"We expect to be shipping into June. Our organic production won't last that long but we expect to have other onions that long."