When Champion Produce Sales Inc. was formed in 2007, it brought together several family farm packaging organizations with decades of expertise and which specialized in growing and shipping savory, sweet onions. The company was launched “to better represent ourselves to the consolidating mainstream business community,” owner John Wong says. “As customers size and profiles increase, we did this to better position ourselves for the future.”
Champion Produce Sales represents Champion Produce, Tamura Farms, Giant Produce and Triple J, collectively making it among the largest suppliers in the Northwest “We are the exclusive sales representative of those companies,” Wong explains.
The current price of onions is depressed due to normal to bumper crops around the globe. “The onion market is in downturn with an oversupply of onions leading to lower prices,” Wong says. “The quality is outstanding, however.”
Although prices are down, “onions are perishable so there will be a new crop and a new season when it all starts over again. It is a wildcard in the future as to exactly what we will see next season,” Wong explains. The number of acres planted generally remains relatively stable across the United States. “We usually don’t have normal to bumper crops around the world. There are normally growing areas that have underproduction due to weather or natural events.”
Onions are the second-most-traded vegetable product globally, cooked in every national food around the planet. “It is used in pretty much every ethnic food and world cuisine from hamburger to pizza, Mexican or Asian dishes,” Wong declares. “It is a perfect ingredient loaded with nutrients, fiber and flavor.”
Although the company distributes year-round with the help of refrigeration, the onion season in Idaho and Utah runs eight-and-a-half months. Champion Produce Sales grows yellow, white and red onions. During the summer months, onions are grown and shipped from California.
Wong’s grandfather Ed started farming onions in Idaho in 1946, followed by his son Ralph, who entered the business in the late 1950s. Current owner John Wong began onion farming in 1984, and his son Tanner joined the business in 2012.
“Onions have always been a family passion,” Wong states. “With growth, there was a natural progression toward vertical integration from the farm, to packaging and sales. That is one thing that is different about us. When companies buy onions from Champion Produce Sales, they are buying them directly from the farm source.”
Wong and Vice President of Sales Dwayne Fisher are expanding the business through networking. Their longevity in the business has been a benefit as their well-known names and reputation for quality over the decades have led to more business.
The company is currently updating it website. The new site will include better images and more information. “It will be more pleasing to the eye to take our customers through our business, so they can better understand who we are and what we do,” Wong says. Champion’s customer base is primarily foodservice, restaurants and retail.
The farms produce crops on 8,000 acres in Idaho and Utah. “Combining decades of packaging expertise with generations of growing experience makes us the recognized leader in onions,” Champion Produce Sales says. “State-of-the-art harvesting and packaging equipment and industry-leading, stringent food safety practices allow us to grow and pack the highest-quality produce in the industry.”
The company ships more than 100 semi loads per week. This is a fairly typical amount for the company, whose volume has grown 5 percent per year. Wong says this success results from “our focus on quality, freshness and delivering to our customers’ needs.”
The company recently began using an optical size sorter for greater efficiency. “This assists us in producing a high-grade pack for our customers,” Wong explains. The sorter, in conjunction with hand selection and computerized palletization of product, allows for well-stacked product to avoid spills and transportation difficulties. “We package from the smallest, at a two pound mesh consumer bag, to the largest at a 2,000-pound mesh tote, though most commonly package in 25- and 50-pound bags and cartons,” Wong says.
Champion Produce Sales also handles transportation needs. “Whether it is by truck or rail, we can deliver,” the company says.
Keeping pace with regulations and updating technology are two top priorities. “Technology continues to change on the farm, packaging and sales levels,” Wong explains.
Examples include GPS guided tractors, new weather-forecasting models, drip irrigation and newer fertilizer and chemistry compounds. In addition, there are more regulations compared to in the past. To satisfy these requirements, a larger clerical staff is required to comply with food and worker safety, as well as state and federal paperwork.
Staffing is a vital component for Champion Produce Sales, as the company’s success is defined by its people. “We are a company that continues to find highly motivated professionals with passion,” Wong says. “Our people are our backbone. From where we have been, where we are, and more importantly, to where we will be going and what we are able to achieve in the future. In short, we are proud to provide such a nutritious food for healthy lifestyles. Whether eaten raw, cooked, fried, dried or roasted, our savory, sweet onions are onionlicious.”