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'New' onion broker brings decades of experience

by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar | June 24, 2010

PARMA, ID — With more than 25 years of experience in produce sales divided nearly equally between the California crops of leafy greens and strawberries and the Idaho-Eastern Oregon mainstays of onions, apples and potatoes, Nancy Carter brings a well-developed skill set to her new Parma, ID-based company, Savory Sweet LLC.

The produce procurement and marketing operation, which is focused primarily on year-round onions, was established in late April, according to Ms. Carter.

Citing her experience with major grower-shippers in the Idaho-Eastern Oregon's Treasure Valley region, Ms. Carter said, "I will continue to offer my longstanding customers the best onions at the best price, providing the hands-on service and careful attention to detail for which they have known me over the years, along with the added flexibility of now being able to source from a variety of quality shippers in multiple growing areas."

Savory Sweet is working with suppliers in the Idaho-Eastern Oregon region as well as Washington, Texas, California, New Mexico and Mexico.

“Savory Sweet applies to the onions here,” she said about the company name that is closely tied to the Treasure Valley’s predominant product. “Our onions are sweet when they are cooked and savory when served uncooked.”

She added that some of the growing areas from which she sources will provide just sweet globes, and “others will have just savory.”

Not unlike her company’s name, Ms. Carter is also tied to the area, with a family history that goes back several generations.

“My great-grandfather, James Baggett, was a farmer who relocated his family from Kentucky in the early 1900s,” she said.

The Baggetts settled first in Garland, UT, and then moved to Stone, ID. A few years later, the patriarch bought a fruit tract in Buhl, ID, where he and his family of 13 children farmed small grains, alfalfa, beans and sugar beets. Mr. Baggett’s youngest son, Oleen, eventually took over the operation.

Oleen Baggett was at the helm of the farm when Ms. Carter, who was born and raised in Southern California, visited during her childhood. Describing her first trip to Buhl at age seven, Ms. Carter said she was “smitten” by everything she heard and saw on the farm.

That initial impression and love for agriculture have lasted a lifetime. “After graduating with a degree in crop science from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in 1984, I started working in the Santa Maria Valley as a rookie salesperson at Gold Coast Packing,” she said.

Within two years she was promoted to sales manager, and over the next decade she helped to add more than a dozen commodities to the manifest — “nearly tripling the volume of packages sold, adding key private brands and launching a value-added line of products.”

She said, “I had the good fortune to be promoted after only two years to the position of sales manager by some very forward-thinking owners. In 1986, few women were even sitting at a sales desk, much less given the reins to the entire department.”

In 1996, she left Gold Coast to help launch Green Magic Growers, a sales organization that marketed leaf lettuces, cauliflower, strawberries, spinach, cilantro, broccoli, napa, bok choy and other greens that were grown on a 3,000-acre ranch.

Ms. Carter then worked for three years at Bonipak Produce, overseeing the broccoli and strawberry programs and leading the company’s expansion into spinach and cilantro.

“In 1999, I fulfilled a lifetime dream to return to the home of my grandparents, and I moved to Idaho,” she said. From 1999 through 2006, she worked as vice president of sales and marketing for J.C. Watson Co. in Parma, ID, and from 2006 through 2009 she worked as director of marketing and business development for Baker Packing in Ontario, OR.

“Since [moving to Idaho], I have had the opportunity to work for two of the leading companies in the Treasure Valley,” Ms. Carter said. After leaving Baker in the fall of 2009, she joined Lisa and Randy Atagi at their company, Under the Onion, and “we spent last season together buying and marketing onions.” She decided to start her own company in early April, and consulting with her son, restaurant owner Christopher Bradbeer of McCall, ID, Ms. Carter hit on the name Savory Sweet.

“We were deciding what to have for dinner one evening when I was visiting Christopher, and he said, 'I don’t feel like anything sweet; let’s have something savory.’ Immediately the two adjectives he chose made me think of the best possible description of an onion — sometimes savory and sometimes sweet,” Ms. Carter said.

Ms. Carter said that she is familiarizing herself with the organic category to provide a full slate of product for a customer base that is split 50-50 between retail and foodservice, and she said that she will handle multiple labels, including her own “Savory Sweet.”