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Onions 52 meeting heightened demand ‘all season long’

With its year-round program in full swing and 2017 rebranding program well established, Onions 52 is meeting what CEO Bob Meek termed current demand “that’s twice what good demand is.”

Meek told The Produce News in late November that the holiday movement was good, “but we’ve had very good demand all season.”

He said, “We’re going through supplies very quickly with really no down time. But with supplies coming on in Texas and Mexico, we’re in good shape.”

Based in Syracuse, UT, Onions 52 has growing operations in several regions, including Washington, Idaho-Eastern Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. With product now coming out of Washington, IEO, Utah and Colorado, Onions 52 is shipping good quality in all sizes and colors, Meek said.

onions52The Onions 52 team includes Shawn Hartley, partner/vice president of sales; Devin Taylor, sales; Kyle Packer, logistics; Kirt Mockli, sales; and Dave Muir, logistics. Photo courtesy of Onions 52.“We have had some challenges, most of which are uncontrollable, weather-related. The growing season in Idaho-Eastern Oregon had a late start because of heavy winter snow and a cold, wet spring,” he said, adding that while the weather played havoc with some regions, it has actually benefited the market.

And, he added, what was thought to be a season of smaller sizing has proven to be less of an issue.

“We have good sizing in our whites, and in fact we have bigger sizes than what we feared we would. Still, yields are definitely down,” he said.

Other issues the company has faced are common to the industry: labor and transportation. Meek said, “I’m worried where the industry is headed in terms of labor. I think we all woke up to what’s going on. And if you didn’t have a labor problem earlier, you have one today. We have gone to H2B [for warehouse labor], and that is a very good program. They are working on an H2C program, a combination of farm and warehouse, in Washington, D.C. We have a ways to go on it, but it would allow workers to remain here 11 months of the year, and it would involve more workers than A or B.”

As far as transportation, Meek said, “I don’t know how some shippers will transport goods with these new restrictions. We just put in a transportation appointment system that lets truckers know what the available time slots are so they can time their departures accordingly. We’re letting them know at least a day ahead.”

The system should help alleviate costly downtime for the truckers, but Meek said, “It will raise costs. It already has.”

And he weighed in on NAFTA and trade agreements, saying, “I can see both sides of the issue, and there’s definitely a need for an agreement.”

He said his primary problem with NAFTA “is that some commodities are used as ‘pawns’ in getting other items into other countries.

“There’s need for change, but I don’t think we can throw everything out the window,” he said, adding that a bilateral agreement could be more beneficial than a trilateral.

Looking ahead to 2018, Meek said there are no major changes in the works for the onion program, although he noted, “We’re always growing.” He said a new “Onions 52” label will be integrated into the packaging, and the Sunion varieties will be introduced to Onions 52 customers sometime after the holidays.