Super colossal onions from Murakami Produce in Ontario, OR, were a hit with Japanese chefs during the Feb. 9 and 10 United Tastes of America Asian Chef Challenge in Tokyo, Japan, and the big boys of the onion world will again be featured at the enormous FOODEX show March 8-11 in Makuhari Messe.
This is the 41st annual FOODEX, and it is the largest food and beverage show in Asia, with 3,000 exhibits from 79 nations.
The IEO onions will be part of the cooking demonstration put on by top Japanese chefs at the USA Pavilion, according to Theresa Yoshioka, Oregon Department of Agriculture International Trade Manager.
The FOODEX event is expected to bring some 75,000 trade professionals and 78,000 visitors, with the potential for enormous exposure for the super colossals.
Grant Kitamura, president and GM of Murakami, said participating in the Japanese events is a good way to keep trade doors open, and he said his company has had good success with that Pacific Rim market in the past.
“Last Fall Theresa contacted us about providing super colossal onions for an onion chef competition in Japan,” Kitamura said about the United Tastes of America series of competitions.
“I’m pleased to learn a portion of the onions were reserved by the ODA for FOODEX,” Kitamura said.
He continued, “This year there have not been a lot of exports to Japan because growers there harvested a large crop, but we have had marked success with Japan in the past. At one time, we supplied supers for a restaurant chain that was using the large onions for soup bowls. We have also shipped to Costco Japan with larger onions as well.”
One particular selling point of the super to Japanese chefs is the onion’s size. “The Japanese are intrigued by how large the onions are,” Kitamura said. “They find it very interesting that we can grow onions of that size. And we have also enjoyed success in the Japanese market because the Japanese are equally intrigued by the fact our company has Japanese growers and farms that were established by Japanese immigrants.”
Yoshioka said the United Taste was the final in a series of chef challenges for Northern Asia, with winning teams from each contest going on to a final competition in Japan later in March.
She agreed with Kitamura on the intrigue super colossals bring to the arena.
“As you know the marketing rule of thumb is that it takes three exposures before a potential customer responds,” she said. “For the Chef Challenge on Feb. 10th we got the super colossal onions into the hands of 20 chefs in the competition and also four chefs judging it. It will take a few more exposures before we see an increased demand from foodservice in Japan, but with the super colossal onions being used in the Japanese Chef Challenge and the Asian Chef Challenge, we are well on our way to building awareness of the super colossal onions among key chefs in that area.”
While the export potential builds, Kitamura and Murakami Produce are looking forward to solid domestic season as well.
Kitamura said, “We are looking to expand our market share next season in the retail, foodservice and processing sectors, and we also have Cameron Skeen working closely with the company’s growers to select onion seed varieties. Cameron has years of experience in the seed industry and he is considered an expert. We’re fortunate to have him consulting with our growers to select the best seed varieties that will meet our customers needs.”