The weak economy has caused a reduction in foodservice business for some onion grower-shippers, while others haven’t noticed much of a change, and some actually have experienced growth as a result of focusing more attention on the category.


David K. DeBerry Inc., Edinburg, Texas, falls in the latter category.


“Our foodservice business is growing,” said president David DeBerry.


That’s because the sales organization is focusing on that side of the business, which was somewhat of a weak spot in the past, since the company has been strongly tied to retail, DeBerry said.


Now, thanks to slightly higher production and a product line that includes items that “fit well in an institutional environment,” DeBerry is taking a closer look at foodservice.


With stringent food safety practices and being Global Trade Item Number-compliant, the firm can deliver the kind of total program foodservice operators look for, DeBerry said.


Foodservice business always has been important for Carzalia Valley Produce, Columbus, N.M., said James Johnson, vice president.


A big chunk of the company’s business consists of private-label packaging for the foodservice industry.


“Our capabilities for packaging are almost endless,” Johnson said.


Foodservice business is fairly standardized, since restaurants and other establishments tend to offer the same thing year-round. Packaging ranges from 10-pound bags to 25- and 50-pound cartons, Johnson said.


“They know what they want and we adjust our packaging to fit their needs,” he said.


Foodservice buyers order just about all varieties, depending on what individual restaurants are looking for, he said.


Johnson noticed a drop in business in the early days of the recession, but sales seem to have leveled off, he said, even though the foodservice industry has not fully recovered.


“People who like to eat out are eating out again,” he said.


Foodservice also continues to be a focus area for Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa., said Marty Kamer, partner and vice president.


Kamer thinks growth in the sweet onion category that the company experienced in retail will spill over into foodservice.


Until now, foodservice buyers have bought primarily red and yellow onions, but Kamer expects sweet onions to become a larger part of the firm’s foodservice business.


There’s been a slight drop in foodservice business at Walla Walla Gardeners’ Association Inc., Walla Walla, Wash., said Bryon Magnaghi, general manager.


But the drop has not had a major effect on the cooperative, since foodservice is not a big part of its overall business, he said.


The association is very much aware of the importance of shipping true sweet onions, “not quasi-sweet onions,” and foodservice as well as retailer buyers appreciate that, Magnaghi said.


So far, Traverse City, Mich.-based Battle Produce Exchange has not ventured into the foodservice category, said president John Battle, “but we are working towards it.”


Demand for the company’s Oso Sweet onions is growing, and Battle said he is getting more calls from foodservice operators than in the past.


“They are interested in the brand,” he said.