Employee Spotlight: Letty Casillas

At Gills Onions, we’re proud to be family-owned. Our employees are an essential part of what makes our onions so great, and we’re excited to introduce them to you.

For more than 28 years, Letty Casillas has been working her way through the ranks of the Gills Onions workforce. Now, we can’t imagine what we would do without her.

So, we sat down and asked Letty a few questions about her background, her role at Gills Onions, and what she has learned from her experiences.

Tell us a little bit about you and what you do at Gills Onions.

Way back in 1995, I applied for a shipping position at Gills Onions. After being in that position for three months, I was offered a sales position. That’s where you could say it all really started for me. Now, I am an account manager, and I work with two of our largest industrial accounts as well as various independent accounts.

It has been over 28 years since I started. In that time, my husband and I have raised three beautiful children: Monica, Carmen, and Josue. I also have three grandchildren.

You work with many Gills Onions customers. What do you tell them about Gills Onions?

Gills Onions offer quality, flavorful, fresh cut onions. We add value to your operations by eliminating inefficiencies. When you purchase bulk fresh cut onions from Gills Onions, you save time, labor, and cut overall costs. And you benefit from our industry-leading shelf life.

What advice do you have for someone thinking about switching to industrial onions?

Industrial diced onions make sense for customers who are large processing companies and who consistently buy large quantities of onions. Typically these customers are seasonal.

For example, one of our biggest clients are companies in the tomato sauce industry. In the summer, they harvest their tomatoes, and we send out truckloads of fresh onions to help create their flavorful sauces.

Our industrial diced onion shipments are guaranteed fresh up to 11 days.

I always say that industrial customers buy big batches of onions and see big value in return.

Do you have a favorite Gills Onions product?

Obviously, I have a soft spot for industrial onions. But, my favorite product is our classic Whole Peeled Onions. They are 100 percent usable with zero waste. You can’t beat that.

Why do you love working for Gills Onions?

I love working at Gills Onions, because it feels more like a family than a large business. The owners, Steve and David Gill, are so caring and involved, and the staff is great. I also get to work with amazing customers.

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way?” Contact the Gills Onions sales department to learn more.

Want to join the Gills team? Reach out to us.

The Art (and Science) of Caramelizing Onions

A celebrity chef recently told us, “Every great meal starts with onions, garlic, and olive oil in a pan.” At Gills Onions, we couldn’t agree more. Onions are the foundation of adding great flavor to any dish. 

Specifically, chefs love caramelized onions, because they’re a delicious and simple way to elevate a recipe and add that special touch. 

Caramelized Onions Are Trending 

If you take a look at current foodservice trends, you’ll see that plant-based dishes and bursting flavors are stealing the show across the board. Caramelized onions could be the poster child for both these movements. 

When you think of sweet foods, onions may not be the first product that comes to mind. But compared to most vegetables, onions are naturally sweet. The caramelization process takes advantage of those natural sugars to create intense and unforgettable flavors. These onions can then be used in a recipe in a variety of ways – always providing a complex sweet, savory, rich base for your dish. 

Gills Onions Make the Best Caramelized Onions

At its heart, onion caramelization is a slow, delicate process. You can’t rush it. It’s an art and a science. 

You start by sweating onions over medium-low heat, adding small amounts of water anytime the onions start to look dry or begin to brown very quickly. The water moistens the onions and helps dissolve sugars to prevent burning. When the onions begin to brown, lower the heat and stir periodically. A finished batch of caramelized onions should be a rich brown color, greatly reduced in size from the beginning of the process, and soft (but not mushy). The carmelized onion process can typically take from 45 to 60 minutes

The success of the onion caramelization process depends heavily on the quality of onions that you use. Every time a chef cooks with Gills Onions, they can’t stop raving about how different an experience they had compared to  cooking with bulk sack onions. That difference is because of our unique growing process and prescription for onions that taste better and stay fresh longer. 

Chefs need water to caramelize onions. It prevents the sugars from burning. But, too much water can also spell disaster in the form of mush. When onions have too much moisture it means one thing: they’ve already started to go bad. 

Gills Onions are naturally drier than other onions in the marketplace. That’s why they have a guaranteed shelf life of 18 days. The fresher the onions, the better the caramelized batch. 

Get Started with These Caramelized Onion Recipes 

There are so many ways to use caramelized onions, and they all taste amazing! Here are a few of our favorites to get you started. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact the Gills Onions sales department

From Seed to Table: The Journey of a Gills Onion

In celebration of our 40th anniversary, we wanted to share with you the journey of a Gills Onion, from seed to table. Family owned and operated since 1983, we’ve grown immensely since our early days. What hasn’t changed is our love for onions!

 Let’s peel back the layers and discover the roots of our onions’ success.

Where the Gills Onion Begins

From the soil to the sunshine, our onions have been nurtured with care and attention every step of the way – “The Gill Way.” It all begins with selecting the right onion seed. Our varieties are carefully selected for their flavor, quality and growing region

Our growing partner, Rio Farms, manages the entire process from start-to-finish before the onions make their way to Gills Onions facility in Oxnard, California. There is truly an art and science to growing the perfect Gills onion. Our growing methods were personally developed by Steve Gill and help to ensure that our products are not only grown in the most environmentally conscious way but also have the best quality and shelf life in the market place for value-added onions. 

Onions on the Move: A Look at the Transportation Process

Our job is to get millions of pounds of the highest quality fresh-cut onions from our fields to your table, but we can’t do it alone. That’s where our wonderful team at Gills Freight comes in. 

During the growing season, Gills Freight drivers move the necessary equipment needed throughout the onion growing process. Once our beautiful onions have been harvested by Rio Farms, our transportation team hauls them to our state-of-the-art processing facility. 

Unleashing the Flavor: The Gills Onions Production Line

The true magic happens when the raw onions make it to the Gills Onions processing facility. Our team begins by loading the onions into a conveyer that leads to the peeling and cutting stations. The cutter removes the top and tail of each onion while simultaneously scoring the onions’ skin to make for an easier peel. Once in the peeling machine, we use a combination of air and water to blow the skin right off the onions.

The onions make their way back down to the Gills Onions team for quality assurance. They swiftly cut off any bruises and imperfections that might have been missed. The onions then journey over to the washing station, where they’re rinsed with cold, ozonated water that kills bacteria. 

Then, it’s off to slicing, dicing, and slivering where onions are prepped, packaged and sealed for each customer order. 

Gills Onions: Bringing Quality to You

After being processed and packaged, the onions are ready to hit the road once again and find their forever homes at your favorite restaurant, in your kitchen and even in your favorite tomato sauce. 

As a consumer, you have the confidence knowing that we know exactly where your onions are grown, processed and packaged. We take tremendous pride in our full traceability program. 

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: We know onions. It’s what we do, and we do it best.

But don’t take our word for it. Our onions speak for themselves. 

Ready to try onions grown “The Gill Way?” Contact the Gills Onions sales department to learn more.

What Makes a Perfect Onion Ring?

Originally published in Flavor & The Menu

It’s easy to depend upon the enduring popularity of onion rings, choosing to do little, if anything, to tinker with the basic recipe that has served you well for years. After all, onion rings naturally ride high on the craveability scale, beloved for the way their crispy, crunchy exterior leads to a sweet, savory, toothsome interior. But if you’re only leaning on the tried and true, and not leaning in to take full advantage of the natural affinity consumers have for onion rings, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities to fire up your menu.

Onions rings present chefs with an attractive gateway to easy but impactful innovation. Minor modifications can lead to memorable differentiation, giving your operation a competitive advantage with signature takes that don’t mess with success. Here are five areas of inspiration to explore:

1. Thickness

Arguably the easiest way to change up your onion rings is to simply increase or decrease the thickness of the onion slice. Or dispense with uniformity and deliver a variety of sizes with each order.

2. Batter Base & Seasonings

Simple swaps to the ingredients of batters and dredges that will coat the onions can deliver a virtually endless array of new flavor profiles and textures for your onion rings. Almost anything goes, as you explore the variables found in both wet and dry ingredients. Have you been relying on a buttermilk or beer batter? Consider a cider-based batter or one spiked with tequila. A tempura-style batter lends a lighter coating giving the onion a greater showcase, while breadcrumbs dial up the crunch factor. Swap wheat flour for chickpea flour or quinoa.

Crank up the heat with hot sauce in your batter for Nashville Hot onion rings, served with a honey drizzle, suggests Michael Ponzio, Executive Chef, Union League Club of Chicago. “It’s an amazing vegetarian option that is sweet, spicy and has great texture.”

There’s no rule that onion rings must be fried, and Ponzio suggests bypassing the batter altogether. “Wrapping the onion slices in bacon and cooking them on the smoker or in an oven with a barbecue glaze can be an amazingly flavorful addition to a burger or chicken sandwich.”

3. Dips, Dusts and Drizzles

Start your signaturization by focusing on finishes. Trade Buffalo dip for a cheesy fondue, double down on onion flavor with a french onion dip, swap honey mustard for mustard cream. You can even play with fan favorite ketchup by using a spicy rendition or leaning on the juicy sweetness of banana ketchup.

“Use a cornmeal batter and add Old Bay seasoning as a dust for an onion ring that evokes a fish fry,” suggests Ponzio. For an upscale take, he recommends tossing the freshly fried onion rings with shredded parmesan and serving them with a truffle aioli. Another idea is to drizzle the rings with a mix of Tabasco sauce and fresh lime juice. “The spice and acidity pair beautifully with the fried breading and the onion’s sweetness,” Ponzio notes.

Dusting with spice blends like dukkah, togarashi, garam masala, gochugaru, baharat and Chinese 5 spice opens wide the global pantry, giving your onion rings a truly distinctive flavor swagger.

Onion rings needn’t be relegated to the side of the plate. Use them to top burgers, sandwiches and bowls.

4. Stuff It

You can fill the hole in the center of your onion slices or use two rings, one inside the other, to sandwich a filling. Fill the ring with a fried egg or sandwich a melty mozzarella between onion layers. Insert a jalapeño popper or stuff the onion with guacamole. Instead of offering a dip on the side, set it in the center of the onion ring.

Ponzio suggests stuffing an onion ring with a breakfast sausage and after cooking, make it the protein of a breakfast sandwich. “It will add the onion’s sweetness to the sandwich—and deliver an amazingly tall presentation!” he says, adding, “I also see a hybrid between an onion ring and a Juicy Lucy as something that could be incredibly popular. Stuff an onion ring with ground chuck and cheese, batter and deep fry. When you cut it open, the cheese will ooze from the middle and the dish will deliver tons of different textures and flavors.”

5. Fun with Formats

Extend the onion ring concept beyond the conventional appetizer or side. Onion rings are making more frequent appearances as toppers for burgers and other handhelds. (Use smaller slices to make sliders stand out and look twice their size, without adding more protein, suggests Ponzio.) Toppers for salads and bowls is another take on this concept. “You could put together a Buffalo onion ring Caesar salad or add onion rings on a pulled pork bowl for a barbecue entrée salad,” says Ponzio. Another option is to adapt the loaded fries concept, swapping in a platter of onion rings as the base for several craveable toppings.

Seasonings and finishes aren’t the only opportunity to go global with onion rings. Indian pakora and bajii are two variations on crispy, battered coated onion fritters.

If you want your onion rings to earn pride of place on Instagram, consider impactful presentations, such as an artfully constructed tower of rings. Or riff on the current hot burger trend, suggests Ponzio, of placing a ring mold on top of the burger, filling it with melted cheese and at tableside, lifting the ring for a dramatic cascade. “You can use an onion ring as the vessel for the same effect,” he notes.

The signature seasoning blends of world cuisines are one way to go global with onion rings. Adapting formats like these Indian-style onion fritters is another way to provide differentiation.

Hero Ingredient

While the most obvious points of differentiation are found in the ingredients that make up the coatings, the finishes and the inclusions, onion ring success is rooted in the culinary advantages found in a quality onion. It starts with consistency.

“Every time a chef cooks with Gills Onions, they can’t stop raving about how the experience differs from using bulk sack onions. Our lower moisture onion is the difference—achieved through a unique growing process and prescription for onions that taste better and stay fresh longer,” says Megan Jacobsen, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Gills Onions.

You won’t get any argument from Chef Ponzio: “Once I had a chance to work with Gills Onions, I was pleasantly surprised,” he says, adding, “The onions were crisp, clean and fresh. They have such great integrity, they can last for days in the cooler before they are compromised., The quality of Gills pre-prepped onions is second to none. Gills is now my go-to onion for my operation.”

“Specific onion varieties are selected for our sliced department,” says Jacobsen. “We even have a comprehensive in-house onion ring testing monitoring program through our Quality Assurance department. It’s constantly analyzing the sugar levels, overall quality of the raw onion and shelf life for a better onion ring experience for you and your customers.”

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department.

Employee Spotlight: Jose Cardona

At Gills Onions, we know that our employees are essential to our success. One of our star team members is Jose Cardona, who has been with us for over 15 years.

We recently sat down with Jose to chat about his time at Gills Onions. From starting out in the HR safety offices, to working hard in the fields, to now leading our Rio Farms onion division team, Jose has seen it all. And, he’s got stories to share! 

Sowing Seeds of Success

Growing up in the small agricultural community of King City, California, Jose always knew he wanted to be outside, working alongside others in the fields. From a young age, Jose remembers thinking that getting paid to spend your day out under the California sun alongside your buddies was surreal – not a job, but a dream. Watching his father become an integral part of Rio Farms for over 30 years inspired Jose to do the same. 

Jose earned his associate’s degree at Hartnell College in King City, which allowed him to be able to work part-time in irrigation for Rio Farms while he attended classes.

“It was probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve done, but also the most fun job I’ve had,” Jose says. He loved the camaraderie and friendship that was created while working long days in the hot sun, saving money for college.

In 2014, Jose transferred to Fresno State to finish up his degree, always sure to come back to Rio Farms in the summers to work. 

Jose’s Advice for Agriculture Students

For Agriculture students currently attending university, Jose has two important pieces of advice: Connect with people who relate to you, and don’t stress about the future – where you end up doesn’t have to be your final destination.

During his first several weeks at university, Jose remembers feeling sad and lonely, wondering if he made the right choice going to college and leaving home. His solution was finding a community. Jose joined an agriculture fraternity at Fresno State where he was able to connect with others in his field. These connections have followed him for years and helped him along his career path. 

As a student, Jose found himself stressing a lot about the unknowns of his future or where he would end up with his degree. He found that the best practice was remembering that he didn’t have to stay in one place. There are always opportunities and different paths to take. His mantra became, “Where you end up doesn’t have to be the final destination.” 

After graduating with a degree in agriculture, Jose tried his hand at some other agricultural jobs in the area, but he soon realized it wasn’t the same as what he knew and loved at Rio Farms. 

What Jose Loves Most About Gills Onions

As someone who manages an entire onion division for a large company, his typical day is far from boring. He’s constantly juggling a variety of tasks – from making sure he’s up-to-date on weather reports to managing employees and planning for the weeks ahead. 

Jose is always thinking about the future of the fields. He ensures trucking is lined up and field quality is up to par. He even has to make water calls three weeks to a month before harvest and spends time walking the fields to make sure the right amount of water is being applied. It’s a fast-paced job that requires constant attention and strategic planning, but for Jose, it’s all worth it to see a successful onion harvest come to fruition.

From the top down (starting with Steven and David Gill), everyone involved in the onion-growing process is passionate about growing the healthiest onion possible. “Steve puts his money where his mouth is,” Jose says, “and there are a lot of great practices he has created with onions – our fertility program, state-of-the-art equipment, and soil health being the foundation.” 

That passion inspires employees like Jose to understand their essential roll in the onion’s lifecycle and show up each day ready to do their best. Their dedication and commitment makes Gills Onions a great place to be. 

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way?” Contact our sales department to learn more. Want to join the Gills team? Reach out to us.

Join the Double Your Impact Challenge

In the month of May, 2023, Gills Onions will match all donations up to $15,000 for every dollar donated to Students for Eco-Education and Agriculture (SEEAG) as part of SEEAG’s third annual Double Your Impact Challenge.

“The generosity of our friends at Gill’s Onions means SEEAG will receive as much as $30,000 to support our Youth Wellness Initiative in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties,” says Mary Maranville, SEEAG’s founder and CEO. “Our mission is to educate, inspire, and empower students to become their own healthy heroes. Our interactive presentations are designed for students in our local community to learn about the important role fruits and vegetables grown locally play in their health and well-being.”

A Mission to Teach and Share

Gills Onions is a long-time supporter of SEEAG’s agricultural education programming that has reached more than 100,000 elementary school students since its founding in 2008. All SEEAG programs are provided free to schools and students.

“Teaching students about how food is grown and the benefits of eating locally-produced fruits and vegetables is one way to improve the health of our kids,” says Steve Gill, Gills Onions president and SEEAG board member. “Once kids learn about the farming and harvesting process and the benefits of fresh produce, they get excited about eating a more healthy diet.”

How You Can Help

All “Gills Onions Double Your Impact Challenge” matching donations go toward student learning:

Double Giving Levels:

  • $25 doubles to $50 – Purchases taste testing & demonstration produce for one Farm Fresh Mobile Classroom presentation
  • $50 doubles to $100 – Provides resources for the Farm Fresh wellness bags, including fresh produce, nutrition resources, the Farm Fresh Passport, and more for one class
  • $100  doubles to $200 – Gases up a Farm Fresh Mobile Classroom Van for a week of presentations across Santa Barbara or Ventura Counties
  • $250 doubles to $500 – Purchases new education and marketing supplies for the Youth Wellness Initiative Programs 
  • $500 doubles to $1,000 – Pays to design and place the first order of new reusable Farm Fresh wellness bags
  • $1,000 doubles to $2,000 – Program support. Places your logo on the Farm Fresh wellness bags for the upcoming school year
  • $2,000 doubles to $4,000 – Purchases Healthy Hero t-shirts for participating students for a year, with your logo prominently placed on the back 
  • $3,000 doubles to $6,000 – Program support. Places your logo on the side of the Farm Fresh Mobile Classroom Van in your county of choice 
  • $5,000 doubles to $10,000 – Program support. Places your logo on the back of the Farm Fresh Mobile Classroom Van in your county of choice 

 For more information or to donate, visit www.seeag.org/doubleyourimpact.

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way”? Contact our sales department to learn more. 

Harvest Has Begun, and Fresh Onions Are on Their Way

Spring is here, and at Gills Onions that means one thing: harvest has begun! In addition to having the longest shelf life in the industry, Gills Onions is always one of the first to market in California with a fresh crop of delicious onions. We’re celebrating the transition from storage onions season to fresh onion season. Here’s why you should too. 

What Fresh Onion Season Means for You

April 19 marks the start of the freshest Gills onions arriving to our customers. We are raking in fresh yellow onions from our fields across California. Red onion harvest will follow around the first part of May. Since our onions can always be relied on for fantastic flavor, you may wonder what differences you can see between onions fresh from harvest and those cultivated for storage season. 

There are several notable perks to fresh onions. Virtually no odor can be detected from the onions that come directly from harvest. There also won’t be any green sprouting or telescoping, which can sometimes happen when an onion reaches the end of storage season and is trying to grow again. You’ll also notice some visible differences between fresh onions and storage onions. It’s common for fresh red onions to appear pale and even almost white. This color difference has to do with the early season varieties we plant and the fact that red onions develop a deeper color as they cure and wait to be processed. Your yellow onions may appear to be whiter as well for the same reasons. 

What Harvest Season Looks Like at Gills Onions

At Gills Onions, we strategically time our onion planting, harvesting, and varieties so that we can meet the need for onions year-round. We typically harvest from April to November from three major growing areas of California. Each region has its own set of strengths that help us consistently produce quality onions. 

Our fields in Imperial County (Brawley) are the first to harvest each year. This region gives us a strong onion supply as we transition out of storage onion season. Then, we move to Kern County (Bakersfield), where a large amount of our onion supply is grown. We plant such large amounts in this region because the environment favors short, intermediate, and long day onions alike. Finally, we move to harvest in the fall into Monterey County (King City). These fields provide the bulk of our storage onions. 

In order to harvest over such a long span of time, we have to plan our planting accordingly. We typically start planting the Brawley fields in October or November each year so they are ready to start harvesting in April. The final fields in King City are usually finishing being planted as we start harvesting the Brawley crop in the spring. This strategy keeps growers busy, but it keeps our customers in delicious onions no matter the time of year. 

Behind the Scenes of Harvest

This video gives you a brief behind the scenes look at how our onions are harvested. You’ll see two machines passing through the field. The first is a chopper, which cuts the green tops off of the onions. The second is the digger, which pulls the onions from under the ground onto the earth’s surface. Once these two machines have done their jobs, a row of beautiful fresh onions can clearly be seen. 

These onions are left in the open air and warm sunlight to cure for two to three days. Then, they are picked up and transported to our sorting facility, where they are checked for quality. The best onions are loaded onto trucks and delivered to our processing facility in Oxnard, California, where they are washed, peeled, sometimes cut, and prepared for shipping to customers like you. 

Gills Onions are 100 percent California grown and, boy, do they taste good. But don’t take our word for it. Fresh onions are on their way to you, and our onions speak for themselves. 

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department. 

Restaurant Feature: Tacos La Bonita

“No onions, no tacos!” says Maria Agraz, co-owner of Tacos La Bonita in Ventura County, California. At Gills Onions, we work with some of the best restaurants in the business, and Tacos La Bonita, right here in our hometown of Oxnard, California, is an excellent example.

Meet the Dynamic Duo Behind Tacos La Bonita: Maria and Jessica

Tacos La Bonita has been feeding Oxnard for over eight years. Owners Jessica Ochoa and Maria Agraz are a taco dream team. Jessica is the genius behind the flavors, and Maria is the welcoming heart and soul of restaurant. 

The duo initially began as a local catering business, and the food was so popular their customers were practically begging for a place to get more. Jessica and Maria opened their first food truck three years later and added another truck a year after that. Today, they have a fleet of five food trucks – four here in Oxnard and one in Las Vegas – and a brick and mortar restaurant.

You Can’t Have Tacos Without Onions

Tacos La Bonita became a Gills Onions customer shortly after the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020. It was difficult for everyone to get the food and supplies they needed during the start of the pandemic, and restaurant owners were no exception. Jessica and Maria were having a hard time getting onion deliveries from their regular supplier and would often have to go without. 

Maria recalls one occasion when a customer called to complain that his tacos didn’t have cilantro or onions. He reminded them that a taco without onions is not a taco. 

Maria knew that, “A good taco needs tortillas, meat, onions, cilantro, and a great salsa — and that also needs onions!”

So, they approached our team at Gills Onions, right there in their hometown.

A Partnership Made in Taco Heaven

Our partnership with Tacos La Bonita ended up being a partnership made in taco heaven. Not only were we able to provide their kitchen with a steady supply of high-quality onions in a challenging time of supply and demand, but the onions also allowed them to increase their speed and output. Gone are the days of having to peel and dice their own onions by hand, a process that significantly slows down production time and increases the risk of kitchen accidents. 

On average, it takes 90 minutes to whole peel and dice a 50 lb sack of onions, and all that knife work is the reason why cuts, lacerations, and punctures are the number one most common injury in commercial kitchens. Value-added diced onions eliminate these problems, and our Gills Diced Onions are always recipe ready.

Today, Tacos La Bonita’s team is working smarter and safer and getting customers their food faster. 

“When I see Gills Onions in stores and in our kitchen I am filled with pride,” Maria says. “We always get our onions on time, and Gills customer service is amazing.” That reliability in quality and service is essential because as we now know, “No onions, no tacos!”

You can find Tacos La Bonita on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, or visit their four food trucks and mini restaurant here in Oxnard, CA, as well as their newest food truck in Las Vegas. 

Ready to speed up the day-to-day work in your kitchen and level up your food the “Gills Way?” Contact our sales department to learn more.

Unpeeled: How Gills Onions Strives for Energy Efficiency

For over a decade, Gills Onions has been fully dialed into the importance of sustainability. From the leaders of the Energy Management Team to peeling line employees, everyone at Gills feels the drive for energy efficiency, and everyone’s input is welcome and valued.

Learn more about our latest efforts striving for sustainability and some of the successes we’ve been able to celebrate.

Our Sustainability Partnership

One of the most important efforts we’ve made toward sustainability in recent years is our partnership with Cascade Energy and Southern California Edison Company. Currently, Gills is in a two-year Strategic Energy Management (SEM) program with these companies, and the results have been fantastic. 

“One of the key takeaways from this partnership is that now whenever we look at a future initiative, even if it may not be directly related to sustainability, we still use the energy lens to evaluate it,” said Laura Hamman, Sustainability Manager. “Energy efficiency is one more element of the vetting process — because efficiency can apply to everything.”

Having a fresh set of eyes in our processing plants has been a huge help for sustainability, and we’re always thrilled when opportunities arise to make “green” onion improvements. 

How Assessments Lead to Improvements

Within the SEM partnership, Gills Onions has been constantly evaluating efficiency and figuring out new ways to optimize energy use. When it comes to sustainability, the small things really do add up. 

With the help of SEM program engineers, yearly audits identify things we can improve on in each area of consumption — including refrigeration, compressed air, process equipment, lighting, and more.

Some of the projects we’ve been working on as a result of this program include:

  • Optimizing pressure cooler operation (turning off fans when no liquid/refrigerant is flowing at the evaporator)
  • Adjusting the compression ratio for the compressors
  • Installing valves to shut off compressed air when not in use
  • Repairing compressed air leaks
  • Employee engagement, training, and recognition (including our “Turn It Off” awareness campaign)

These projects are a team effort among all of our departments, and we’re so proud of the work they’ve put into this initiative so far.

The Numbers Speak for Themselves

We’re happy to report that our hard work is paying off, and we’ve got the numbers to prove it. By investing in major capital projects (like replacing a large ammonia refrigeration compressor), during the first two years of our SEM partnership, Gills Onions saw a 21% reduction in annual energy consumption and a huge leap from our goal of 12% savings.

And we’re not stopping there! Some other exciting projects we’ve been working on to improve the overall efficiency of the plant include new peeling lines with reduced compressed air use, and water recycling in our wastewater system through the use of effluent water for dilution.

Sustainability is truly an ongoing effort, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.

The Future Looks Green for Gills

Due to the success of our SEM partnership, we have been invited back to participate in a second cycle and continue our advancements. Only the companies with the most potential and drive to continue with the program have received this invitation, and we are thrilled to be part of that cohort. 

“It has been a labor of love,” said Hamman. “It’s been really nice to see the results, and we keep going strong. Even if it’s a small change, it matters.”

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way?” Contact our sales department to learn more.

Our Quest Toward Zero Waste

When you spend your days peeling and processing onions, you know that waste is inevitable. But, at Gills Onions, we also know that sustainability is key to preserving our fields and the quality of our products for future generations. 

Since Gills Onions began in 1983, we’ve passionately explored new technologies and methods to help us maximize conservation and efficiency in every area of our business. 

Our mission is to be fully aware of the impact our business has on the environment and to hold ourselves accountable. We do this by continuously making and achieving measurable sustainability goals in each organizational and operational level of our business. 

Our Zero Waste Facility 

In 2009, Gills Onions made a goal to achieve zero waste company wide. We would work to maximize recycling, minimize waste, reduce consumption, and ensure that our products were made to be reused, repaired, or recycled back into nature or the marketplace. 

This was an ambitious goal. In 2007, our home state of California sent 39.6 million tons of waste to landfills, 16% of which was food matter. At our own facility, about 37% of the onions processed cannot be used by customers and are discarded as waste along with leftover onion peelings. 

In the past, we trucked this waste to the onion farms where it was worked back into the soil. But this practice wasn’t truly sustainable. It started proving problematic for soil conditions and cost $400,000 annually to transport the waste, not to mention the emissions caused by our trucking fleet.

We knew there had to be a better way to run our business — from the fields to the processing facility and even in our offices. 

We began by creating a comprehensive inventory of all the waste streams in our business. We then developed strategies to help us move toward diverting 100 percent of our waste into productive outlets. 

We track all of our resource usage from the types of fuel we use to electricity and water. We also keep a detailed inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and report it yearly to The Climate Registry. 

At our processing facility, a wastewater treatment plant process 180,000 gallons of production wastewater per day. Ultimately, 100% of this water will be purified and recycled back to our facility for reuse. We’ve also increased the fuel efficiency of our entire fleet of trucks, saving 90 thousand gallons of fuel annually.

And by converting 99% of our conventional irrigation methods to drip irrigation, Gills Onions has reduced water consumption by 40%. That means we reduce the risks of soil erosion and conserve enough water each year to meet the annual needs of 2,900 households in our home state of California.  

Through the implementation of wide-range recycling programs and the expansion of waste reduction initiatives, our company’s waste diversion reached 99.2% in 2018. 

Converting Waste to Onion Power 

A highlight of our zero waste efforts is Onion Power

Our plant can process up to a million pounds of raw onions each day, creating an average of 150 tons of onion waste.

By collaborating with innovators across the United States over several years, Gills Onions was able to develop the Advanced Energy Recovery System (AERS), which converts onion waste into ultra-clean, virtually emissions-free electricity. 

The AERS provides 100% of the base electrical load for our processing plant, the equivalent of enough power to supply 460 homes for an entire year. It also eliminates 14,500 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year. 

The Benefits of a Zero Waste Mindset

Working “green” positively impacts our employees, our customers, our industry, and our environment. It also benefits our bottom line. 

We’ve been able to reduce operational costs, increase efficiency, improve our resource management, and create greater energy independence as we pursue a zero waste facility. And we aren’t the only ones who benefit. 

Our customers see profit from a greener, less wasteful supply chain as well. They also enjoy increased transparency on how their onions are grown and processed and the impact those tasks have on the environment. 

As Gills Onions has pursued zero waste initiatives, we’ve been able to share our expertise and innovations with fellow industry players and government bodies. Our technology has helped the state of California produce substantial quantities of combined power and heat from renewable food processing waste products. Widespread use of “waste-to-energy” conversion technology is replacing significant amounts of electricity and natural gas use statewide. 

The real winner in our sustainability journey is — of course — our environment. We’ve reduced greenhouse gas emissions by no longer hauling waste off-site for composting. We’ve also improved air quality by reducing the use of conventional fuel supplies and replacing other polluting energy sources with clean alternatives. 

By demonstrating responsibility and leadership, we hope to encourage environmentally-friendly, waste-reducing initiatives in our nation and in our industry. 

Ready to try onions grown “The Gills Way”? Contact our sales department to learn more.

Onions – The Unsung Hero

Article Originally Published in Flavor & The Menu

As kitchen ingredients go, onions often don’t get the respect they deserve. While flashier seasonal products – looking at you, truffles, morels and spring peas – often hog the spotlight with special menu items created around them, the ever-present onion remains in the background doing its important work with little or no fanfare or attention.

At Gills Onions, however, it’s a much different story. What began in 1983 as a passion project of brothers and fourth-generation farmers Steve and David Gill to offer the highest quality, sustainably grown fresh-cut onion products to its foodservice and retail customers, has become one of the largest family-owned onion growers and processors in the world. Using a three-pronged approach to its onion farming that focuses on innovation, conservation and sustainability, Gills ensures their onions have the best growing conditions and the lowest environmental impact.

To help shed some light on their unique onion growing process, Gills Onions recently hosted a true farm-to-table experience for a group of chefs at one of their farms in Bakersfield, Calif.

“It was eye opening to taste through many onions and learn the details of the farming that result in such a superior product,” says Chef Chris Shackelford of Trelio Food and Wine in Clovis, Calif.

Creating a superior product starts with using the highest quality soil that is rich in macro- and micronutrients, which in turn creates a strong root system aiding in withstanding pests and extreme weather. Raised from seed to harvest by their experts, Gills’ onions are processed in their own facility, guaranteeing they are in control of the entire process up until their onions arrive at customers’ doors.

TRACING QUALITY

“Product tracing is extremely important,” says Chef Michael Ponzio of Chicago’s Union League Club. “Knowing the care and attention that goes into a product I buy helps ensure that my customers are receiving a quality product from a safe and reliable vendor. We have so many options now, so it is our responsibility to provide our customers with the best products.”

Gills Onions’ Steve Gill echoes that sentiment. “At Gills, we have the ability to trace the product all the way back to the field. Traceability should not stop at the distributor level; it needs to have the ability to be traced all through the supply chain.”

For Shackelford, the ability to trace a product to its source is not only vital for food safety but also plays a role in food consistency. “Agriculture can vary year to year and knowing a farmer that has put considerable effort into the terroir and farming practices ensures that we are cooking with a consistent piece of produce each time,” he says.

Getting a glimpse firsthand into the sustainable symbiotic waste-powered energy solution Gills Onions employs – including converting 100 percent of their onion waste into emissions-free electricity—was another pleasant discovery for the chefs. “Their sustainability practices blew my mind,” says Ponzio. “It is amazing how they use their own byproduct to make methane for their production, and how a business that size could be so environmentally friendly.”

Available in a variety of formats, ranging from diced and sliced to slivered and whole peeled, Gills Onions arrive 100 percent washed—ensuring that the unsanitary dirt and bacteria common with unpeeled onions isn’t brought into your kitchen—and ready to use. “We’ve worked hard to achieve an 18-day shelf life to ship into every market within the U.S. and Canada,” says Gill, adding that their onions’ strong cellular structure translates to less odor and can be cut with fewer tears. “This level of quality does not happen by accident.”

And chefs have taken notice.

“It’s not easy as a chef to commit to buying processed products, but Gills takes the time to focus on their quality and shelf life ensuring that the peeled onions we get are even better than the whole commodity ones we used to buy,” says Ponzio. “This helps my team save time, be more productive and actually increases our quality.”

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department.

Our Favorite Onion Recipes for Soup Season

Soup season is here, and we are here for it! There is nothing quite like soup to warm your soul and fill your stomach on a chilly day. Soup has been part of mankind’s diet for centuries. In fact, historians believe that the first bowl of soup was cooked up sometime around 20,000 BC using clay pots or bowls made of mud. 

Soup recipes have come a long way from those simple broths. The modern foodie can enjoy soups from every culture and region of the world, each with unique ingredients, spices, and aromas. We’re here to highlight our favorite soup component and offer a few pro-tips for making perfect soups this season. You guessed it: We’re talking about onions. 

Transform Your Soups with Onions

Onions make an excellent soup ingredient because they are so versatile. Depending on their preparation, they can offer distinctive flavor profiles and take a soup from good to great. Onions offer a complex umami – or savory – taste that can boost up meat-based stocks like chicken or beef or contribute needed depth to a vegetable stock. 

Using onions in soup is also an easy way to add moisture to the mixture without adding additional liquids like water that could dilute flavors and spices. 

Let’s not forget the health benefits of using onions in your recipes, too. Onions are jam-packed with essential nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, antioxidants, and potassium. Regularly including onions in your diet has been proven to improve heart health, better control blood sugar, and even increase bone density. All that to say, an apple a day may be good, but an onion a day may be better. No offense to the apples. 

As an added bonus, onions are inexpensive and long-lasting — especially if you are using a Gills Onion. Our value-added onions have the longest shelf life in the industry, staying fresh and ready to use for at least 18 days. And, from soil to seed to storage, our onions are carefully cultivated to deliver the best taste and virtually no odor. 

Prepping Your Onions for Flavorful Soups

Onions are part of the triad of vegetables that make Mirepoix: onions, carrots, and celery. Mirepoix is the base for thousands of delicious recipes including many soups. And, even on its own, onion is a common soup component around the world. You can use onion in your own soup-making in a variety of ways: 

  • Sauté. Cook onions and a small amount of your favorite cooking oil over high heat. The goal is to cook, stirring occasionally, until your onions are golden brown. This is a great first step to making a roux or soup base. 
  • Sweat. Sweating an onion is similar to sauteing, except you’ll cook the onion by itself over low heat until the onions become soft and clear. You don’t want to brown them, just soften the texture and release those sweet flavors. 
  • Caramelize. The caramelization process is slow and sensitive, but it produces the deepest, sweetest onion flavor. You’ll sweat your onions over medium-low heat and add a little bit of water anytime they start to brown quickly or look dry. Adding the water keeps the natural sugars in the onion from burning. Once browning begins, turn your heat to low and keep stirring every few minutes. The longer your onions cook, the sweeter they will be. 
  • Fresh cut. Fresh cut onions are great as a topper on soups and chilis. They bring a stronger, sharper flavor than the sweet flavors of sauteed, sweated, or caramelized onions, but they lift recipes with their clean taste and crisp texture. 

Get Started with These Recipes

Ready to elevate your soup season with onions? You can’t go wrong with some of our favorite recipes. 

And, if you have your own favorites to share, tag us on social media @gillsonions, and check out our other onion-loving social content at the links below:

Instagram 

TikTok 

Facebook

LinkedIn

Ready to try onions the Gills Way? For more information, contact our sales department.