ONTARIO, OR — Jerry and Steve Baker, the dynamic father-and-son team at Baker Packing Co. in Ontario, OR, understand what it takes to be at the top of the onion industry game. “We have always prided ourselves in doing a good job producing a quality product,” President Steve Baker said Nov. 2. “The marketplace now demands this quality more than ever before. There just aren’t a lot of options where to go with marginal product.”
Mr. Baker described the company’s philosophy and the manner in which business is conducted. Quality pervades all aspects of the company’s operation. “We want to produce a quality product and provide great customer service to our customers,” he stated. “We believe in doing things right and doing what we say we are going to do. Our word is our business. We also make sure we hire quality people who care about the job they are doing. We have very good key employees who really care about doing a quality job.”
The company’s history dates back to 1972, at which time an onion division was established within the former DeBruyn Produce. By the mid-1990s, the Bakers had launched Baker Packing. The two also have significant experience in the onion arena. “Jerry Baker has been in onions sales for 41 years,” his son stated. “He was an onion inspector for five years before that. [I have] been in onion sales for 28 years.”
The company works with a network of approximately 40 growers in the Treasure Valley. Along with product from California, Baker Packing ships year-round. Onions have fared well during difficult economic times. Onions are seen by U.S. consumers as an economical purchase and are a staple in the food pantry. “In tough times, Americans are not afraid to buy staples,” Mr. Baker noted.
Baker Packing moves Spanish Sweets from the growing region. “We market yellows, whites and reds in a variety of sizes and packages,” Mr. Baker said. “We pack in 50-pound bags and cartons and 25-pound bags and cartons.” He went on to say that 10-pound, 5-pound, 3-pound and 2-pound bags are also popular. “We can also pack onions in bulk tote bags. We have the ability to sticker onions if requested by our customers. We pack for numerous companies in their private labels.”
Looking at the past decade, Mr. Baker said the firm has evolved to meet marketplace expectations and demands. Automation has been a critical factor.
The onion packing business has become more automated than in the past decade,” Mr. Baker commented. “We have automated our packingline to bag and palletize onions. We can also harvest onions out of the field faster due changes made with equipment over the last decade. The driving force of automation is to try and cut cost by being more efficient.”
Modernization of packinglines and equipment is another key to success. “Equipment upgrades in the past five years have included palletizing equipment. Also, upgraded bin dumper and binning station equipment has afforded us a hands-free product flow in our packing process,” he noted.
Baker Packing has worked to meet ever-changing regulations and food-safety standards. The company supports GAP practices for all its producers supplying product. “Our field service staff works with growers in all areas of production [from] planting through harvest,” Mr. Baker noted. Membership in Certified Onions Inc. allows for farm-to-packer traceability along with product testing for pesticide and microbial contaminates. “GHP practices are a daily priority,” Mr. Baker added. “We utilize U.S. Department of Agriculture auditing with a continuous monitoring program by the Oregon Department of Agriculture in conjunction with [the] Customer Assisted Inspection Program. As the new Global Food Safety Initiative standards are adopted, we will align ourselves with the proper regulating authorities to achieve required results.”
Mr. Baker said the next challenge will involve transportation and its ability to deliver a product that is certified safe. “Care and custody will have to be the common denominator.”