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Eaton & Eustis enjoying great onion movement currently

Eaton & Eustis Co., located at the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, MA, is well-known for its major onion programs, including sweet onions from all areas of the country and offshore.

Anthony Sharrino, president of the company, told The Produce News that its onion line includes Vidalia, Walla Walla and Peruvian sweet onions.

“We also handle a full line of garlic products, fresh and peeled, all of which is sourced from California,” he said. “We’ve been doing business with Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California, for over 30 years.”

eaton-eustis-ginger-croppedFresh ginger sitting on A.J. Trucco’s dock at Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY, readied for shipment to Eaton & Eustis Co. at the New England Produce Center.The onion business has been very strong this year. Besides sweet onions, Eaton & Eustis handles conventional onions, which were moving out of Oregon and Idaho in all colors in the fall.

“In our sweet onion category, we’re in our Peruvian program currently,” he said Oct. 9. “We will transition into Chilean sweets when that movement begins in December.”

The company was originally founded in 1880 by partners Eaton and Eustis. Sharrino’s grandparents began working for the partners when they emigrated from Sicily, Italy, in 1906, and in 1910 they bought the company. Sharrino is the third-generation family member to own and operate the firm.

Eaton & Eustis Co. also handles fresh ginger and a full line of dried fruits and nuts in the shell. The majority of its dried fruits and nuts are sourced domestically.

It also does a major business in fresh chestnuts that are sourced from the major importers of the item, including a longtime sourcing partnership with A.J. Trucco at the Hunts Point Terminal Market in the Bronx, NY. Sharrino noted that he starts his day every morning at about 5 a.m. with a phone conversation with the people at A.J. Trucco.

Sharrino said that garlic has undergone a major transition over the past several years.

“California garlic growers cut back a bit in production for several years because China’s garlic was so cheap that California growers couldn’t compete,” he said. “But in 2010 China fell short of supplies. That put pressure back on California. But growers there were dedicated to take care of its existing and loyal customers first. Shortage caused prices to jump pretty high for a while.”

Chinese garlic supplies remained tight and prices stayed high until about a year ago, when the Chinese once again “opened the flood gates.”

“The guys who handle Chinese garlic were back to just about giving it away,” he said. “But California made a strong comeback. And customers realize that you can’t compare Chinese garlic to California product — the California garlic is simply far more superior, and most of our foodservice customers request it today. There is also the issue of traceability with Chinese garlic, of which some people are questioning the reliability.”

He also noted that word is out that Chinese garlic is about 30 percent higher in price than a year ago. With people now more willing to pay more for the higher-quality California garlic, this could put additional pressure on California growers. And if California growers come up with a little shorter crop in the coming year, the demand could intensify.

“We’re hearing that California is in a little better shape than last year,” said Sharrino. “The ‘Monviso’ garlic from Christopher Ranch is outstanding. It is from Italian seed, and the pungency is so superior to Chinese that it takes three to five times as much Chinese and you still don’t have the flavor of the ‘Monviso’ garlic.”

The result of the competition between California and Chinese garlic has created two distinct price markets, and that will likely continue into the future.

Eaton & Eustis Co.’s customer base is about 50 percent retail stores and 50 percent foodservice operators. Included in its retail business are the smaller independently owned stores.

Heading into November, the company is moving Italian chestnuts heavily for the upcoming holiday season.

Sharrino said that success in the fresh produce business is all about strong and healthy relationships.

“My father gave Sal Vacca, president of A.J. Trucco, his first order around 1949,” he said. “And today he is a major source of chestnuts and other products for us. Even if he’s on vacation in Italy, he’ll call in just to stay in touch.

“Maintaining strong and loyal relationships in this business is integral to doing great business,” Sharrino continued. “We pride ourselves on the mutual dedication that has been formed with our partners in this industry throughout our history.”