Hale brothers regain control of onion company
HERMISTON, Ore. — Brothers Bob and Rick Hale have led a group of investors in regaining control of River Point Farms, part of a massive onion growing and processing operation that includes strategic partners and growers in the Pacific Northwest and California.
Bob Hale said he was “elated” with the deal, which took effect Sept. 9.
In August, the investment group, which includes several existing and new shareholders, closed the deal. Hale declined to give the specific value of the investment, but said it is an “eight-figure transaction.”
The family began Hale Farms in 1976. In 1982, they started American Onion. The Hales purchased a customer, Rivergate Farms, and sold controlling interest in the combined River Point Farms in 2007 to private equity firm CIC Partners, which remains an investor under the new structure.
“Even since 2007, the Hales have been closely involved in the operations at River Point,” said Bob Hale, president and CEO. He has served as River Point's president since 2007 and has been CEO for nine months.
Hale Farms and River Point are separate but interdependent, he said. River Point rents land and storage from the Hales and others and has about 520 full-time employees.
“It was important for us to make sure the company had a foundation to move on into the future and was sustainable,” Hale said. “We want to make sure the company is sustainable in the short run and we have expansion to meet customer needs in the long run.”
Customers include food service companies, industrial ingredient companies, national restaurant chains and grocery stores and retailers with strategic partner Curry and Co. in Brooks, Ore.
“We were already the largest onion producer in the country, we have a strong customer base,” Hale said. “Some of those restaurant chains are expanding, and we want to be able to meet their expanding needs, as well as other customers who are new to us.”
The onion producer also has several new “strategic partnerships” that will allow it to expand its growing, production, packing, shipping and product offerings in the next few months.
The shareholders have a total land base of about 85,000 acres, Hale said. River Point Farms grows 450 million pounds of onions. About 85 percent is grown by the company’s farmers, and 15 percent by outside growers in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, Hale said.
“Certainly that provides opportunity for meeting our expanding customer needs,” he said.
The Hales expect to invest in facilities and equipment for the operation, including plans for offering retail-ready products with strategic partner Taylor Farms, based in Salinas, Calif.
The farm produces whole and fresh-cut onions. Hale expects to continue to be a leader in the onion category.
“I see us being innovative in new onion products on the fresh-cut side, on packaging and service to our customers,” he said.