FRUITLAND, Idaho — Idaho and Eastern Oregon onion growers hope a $40,000 specialty crop grant could help the industry make more inroads into Mexico and Latin America.
The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee’s export committee received the grant through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. It is more than the committee’s annual $35,00 export budget.
“To receive an additional $40,000 is a great opportunity to help build our export markets,” said IEOOC Executive Director Candi Fitch. “It’s always important to get your name out there and try to build new markets and one of our focuses is down in Mexico and Latin America.”
The grant will fund a two-year project that will include in-store promotions in several Mexican cities as well as three trade missions.
Onion consumption per capita in Mexico is much higher than what it is in the United States, said Grant Kitamura, manager of Murakami Produce, one of the area’s largest onion shippers.
“Hopefully, the grant will help get our product in front of more people down there,” he said. “If we can get a foothold in that market, that would be tremendous for our industry.”
More than 90 percent of the onions grown in this region are yellow onions and it’s important to educate Mexican consumers and retailers about their benefits, Fitch said.
Many Mexican consumers view yellow onions as inferior to white onions and the industry has tried for several years to reverse that opinion, she added.
Although the industry has made some strides on that front, “yellow onions really aren’t accepted in the Mexico market,” Fitch said. “They like the white onion. This project will allow us to educate them about yellow onions, cut them open and show them that … a yellow onion is just as usable and good as a white onion.”
Less than 5 percent of the big bulb onions grown in this region are exported, but the potential in Mexico and Latin America is big, said Kay Riley, chairman of the federal marketing order that represents more than 300 onion growers and 36 shippers in southwestern Idaho and eastern Oregon.
“Hopefully, they will be able to use that money to create a long-term relationship with more consumers and buyers down there,” said Riley, manager of Snake River Produce. “That’s the goal.”