One of the biggest lessons taught by 2020 was to expect the unexpected, and fortunately for those of us in the produce industry, that attribute is part of our DNA. Every one of us found ourselves in a pivoting motion multiple times during the year, adjusting and adapting to circumstances as they popped up.
Our friends at Snake River Produce in Nyssa, OR, shared with us recently their take on the year past, commenting on what it brought and what they’re anticipating for the onion industry in 2021.
Kay Riley, general manager/sales manager of Snake River, said in terms of overall demand in 2021, he expects it remain less than prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding, “but it will begin to recover.” And Tiffany Cruickshank, assistant manager/sales, said, “As we settle into 2021, I am hopeful consumption will return to a more ‘normal’ volume in time for the 2021 harvest. The Food Box Program volumes were assigned Jan. 19, and the amount of interest in onions this round is encouraging.”
However, Tiffany continued, “Even with that, I do not anticipate demand to recover fully this season. It will take time for foodservice to rebuild.”
Kay said he foresees an uptick in foodservice, noting, “I think as we move into spring and summer, outdoor dining will help, and indoor dining will slowly recover.”
“Restaurants have been hit so hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as areas of foodservice like cafeterias in schools, hospitals, workspaces, and more,” Tiffany said.
She asked, “Will those areas ever look as they did previously or have we shifted into a ‘new’ normal with more people working and going to school from home?”
Both Kay and Tiffany said retail movement should remain brisk.
“Yes, retail will continue to remain strong,” Kay said. “I think most associations, etc. are doing all they can and using robust advertising.”
And Tiffany drew from her own experience to agree, qualifying that with the challenges she faces as a consumer.
“I agree that retail will continue to be strong,” she said. “However, there are trends showing folks are ‘fatigued’ with cooking as much at home after the initial excitement and bump in homemade meals and meal planning. As a mother of two, I can totally understand this, especially when families are now eating meals at home that used to be consumed elsewhere – lunch, specifically.”
Tiffany also looked at promotional efforts by industry commissions and associations as well as individual companies. She said, “With regard to commissions/associations, etc. continuing to promote a healthy food product and specifically the benefits of onions such as those immune-boosting properties, it always helpful. At Snake River Produce, we are using our social media platforms to help educate our audience on a variety of onion related topics, from production to consumption and everything in between.”
Citing stats, she said, “In 2019, per capita consumption of fresh onions in the United States was approximately 20.4 pounds. If we could get the 328.2 million people (2019 U.S. population) to eat just one more pound each of onions, that would equate to over 7,500 additional truckloads of onions being consumed. Check my math on that, but every pound counts!”
Kay addressed competition and keeping the wheels of commerce in motion, saying, “Competition is good, but as an industry we need to reduce production to keep it in line with demand.” And Tiffany added, “From the sales desk, we always strive to do the very best we can with the supplies available, but as Kay said, the onion market is very much driven by supplies. Each year, we hope for orderly marketing and fair markets, and this season is no different from that perspective.”
The constraints of COVID-19 have affected interpersonal relationships, but more and more of us are turning to “virtual” communication and chatting through social media. Tiffany described how it’s worked for her.
“As we have not had the opportunity to travel as normal, I have found our relationships through social media have grown much stronger. Though I am very much looking forward to giving some of my favorite industry friends a hug at the next convention, I am grateful for the opportunities technology has provided to strengthen relationships in new ways.”
And with equal portions of gratitude and optimism, Kay said 2021 was more than a learning experience. “My ‘aha’ moment,” he said, “is just that we are not only surviving but actually thriving. We are thankful things are as good as they are.”