Fighting Food Deserts with Value-Added Produce

The world population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. That’s a lot of hungry people to feed. And today, we aren’t succeeding. An estimated 815 million people around the globe are suffering from hunger. In order to feed the world’s growing population, agricultural production will need to increase by 60% over the next 30 years. 

But having food available isn’t enough. We need to be able to get that fresh produce to the people who need it. Currently, about 23.5 million Americans live in food deserts — locations where access to affordable, healthy food is difficult because grocery stores are too far away. Nearly half of those people are also low-income, and scarcity of product drives up the price. 

How do we end food deserts and feed our nation? Value-added products are an essential part of the strategy.

What Is a Food Desert?

Food deserts can sound like an unbelievable thing. How is it possible that in a modern world with so many items at our fingertips, families don’t have access to fresh, healthy foods? It’s a more common problem than you think. For example, 2.3 million people in the US live in rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a grocery store

Urban areas aren’t exempt, either. Grocery chains typically don’t build stores in poor neighborhoods, and lower income households are less likely to own cars. Lack of transportation makes shopping more than a few blocks away nearly impossible, so families make do with what’s easily accessed — corner stores that sell processed items and fast food restaurants.

Without easy access to fresh foods, people are more likely to make unhealthy choices and eat an unbalanced diet. This leads to health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In Chicago, the death rate from diabetes in a food desert is twice as high as areas with easy access to larger stores with affordable produce.

Value-Added Produce Can Make Real Change

Value-added products are just that — products that add value beyond traditional options. In the world of fresh produce, value-added products are designed to save consumers time, make foods more readily available, and be attractive to retailers with easy store packaging. 

For example, a gas station or corner store may not have the facilities or floor space to stock and sell individual or bulk apples, but pre-sliced apples in individual bags and containers can be a more efficient option. The apples haven’t lost any of their nutritional value by being pre-sliced and packaged, but they are easier for the retailer to sell and easier for buyers to consume. Busy people don’t have to stop to slice and prep their apples. Instead, they grab and go. 

Gills Onions: Experts at Value-Added

At Gills Onions, we are proud to contribute these value-added products to the marketplace:

  • Diced Yellow Onions
  • Diced Red Onions
  • Diced Celery and Onions
  • Diced Mirepoix (a mix of onions, carrots, and celery)
  • Diced Pickled Onions

We pack our retail products in 8 to 10  oz., BPA-free, recyclable clear cups with reusable lids. Our packaging locks in freshness and is easy for retailers to store and display. It’s also easy for buyers to transport to their homes. 

When you’re ready to prepare your meal, there’s no need to wash and chop vegetables. Instead, fresh, healthy food is at your fingertips. We currently serve retail grocers throughout the state of California. As we extend our reach nationwide, we hope to share our best-in-the-industry produce with more and more people, working to eliminate food deserts and bring fresh vegetables to every table.

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

Lessons Learned from 2020 and Industry Predictions for 2021

When it comes to the year 2020, where do we begin? So much has happened, and so much has changed. An unprecedented world pandemic turned the entire foodservice industry on its head, but it also taught us some valuable lessons. Unexpected trends and adaptations fueled innovations that will carry through into 2021 and beyond. 

So, while we wouldn’t jump at the chance to repeat 2020 anytime soon, we are grateful to be standing strong on the other side, and we’re optimistic for the future. Here’s what we’ve seen over the past year in the food industry and what we expect to see through the rest of 2021.

Discovering the Chef Within

With quarantine measures in place, the average Joes and Janes of the world became acquainted with their kitchens. For too many people, cooking is a lost art — or a skill they never took the time to find in the first place. Being stuck at home opened up an opportunity to explore the amazing world of food by trying new recipes and new foods. Baking bread, pickling, preserving, and canning foods are more popular than they have been in decades.

Luckily for those of us at Gills Onions, the tried and true produce of the world wasn’t forgotten. After all, an onion is a healthy, flavorful, and versatile ingredient. Every time someone purchased produce to cook their next meal, they supported farmers and producers across our nation. Thanks for cooking!

Prioritizing Health and Sustainability 

With or without a pandemic, you always need to eat more veggies. That’s a sentiment that both foodservice and individual consumers took to heart over the last year. Plant-based diets continue to be on the rise with a focus on health boosting trends like CBD products, herbal pharmaceuticals, kombucha drinks, and, of course, plant-based proteins. 

We also saw greater concern for sustainability and a focus on the environment. As a society, we were able to take a step back and really think about how our personal choices affect those around us, our planet included. 

Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Gills Onions, so we are excited for the opportunity to share our mission with even more audiences. In 2021, we anticipate a trend toward more interest in where food comes from and how it is grown. By encouraging widespread use of conscious farming practices, we can all work together for a healthier planet while improving our personal health as well. 

The Evolution of Delivery 

When rising numbers of COVID-19 cases forced foodservice closures and put indoor dining on notice across the world, restaurants and grocery stores had to adapt. The shift from indoor dining to delivery, takeout, drive-thru services, and ghost kitchens allowed our industry to rise from the ashes. Even though many retail food establishments continue to struggle, delivery options have become a viable way to keep doors open. 

Before the pandemic, grocery store pick up and delivery was a trend many expected to take off. We never could have predicted how quickly these services would become essential for many Americans. 

At Gills Onions, we’ve had to adapt to the changing landscape, too. We’re committed to helping our customers as they reopen and providing them with the same great service — and great onions — as we always have. Whether you’re back to indoor dining, keeping it outdoors, or still relying on takeout and delivery, we’ll be there to save you time and money with high quality, value-added produce.

Lingering Lockdown Habits

As we look to the future, we hope that many of the good habits and attitudes developed during lockdown will carry on. Knowing where your food comes from and being conscious about what you eat is so important for physical health and for our environment. While 2020 was a difficult year, it also took us back to our roots and reminded us why food is so wonderful to begin with. 

Here’s to a new normal in 2021!

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

Farmers: The Pandemic’s Unsung Heroes

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked world economies and impacted every aspect of our lives. The agriculture industry is no exception. And yet, despite unprecedented challenges, we did not — and could not — stop farming. 

At Gills Onions, we recognize and celebrate the sacrifices and contributions of our farmers and our employees. The farmers cultivating onions in the fields, the production team in our processing plants, the truck drivers that transport products, the accountants that make sure the paychecks arrive on time — these too often unsung heroes represent a segment of essential workers that make sure Americans have food to put on the table. 

Why Agriculture Is Essential 

Agriculture is one of the most essential industries in the world. Without it, humans couldn’t survive. And still, we often forget how important agriculture is and how massive an impact the farmers and workers in the agriculture industry have on our daily lives. 

It starts, of course, with the food we eat. Everything you purchase from the grocery store — fruits, vegetables, meat, tofu, spices — is readily available because a farmer gets up every day and does their job. You can take a short drive or walk to the store and get everything you need to make dinner tonight because a trucker transported those foods across thousands of miles to you. It’s so easy to get good food that it’s easy to forget the hard work behind it. 

But agriculture extends far past the foods you eat. Many of the clothes you wear, the carpets and rugs you walk on, the blankets on your bed, and even the bandages you use when you are injured originate with ag.

Agriculture is an essential part of the world economy. About 70% of people rely directly on some form of agriculture for their livelihood, and agriculture is the main source of income for many developing countries. Major exports like spices, sugar, rice, and coffee fuel international trade. 

Long story short, agriculture is about as essential as it gets. 

How COVID-19 Has Affected Ag 

The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges for farmers all over the world and added to a series of already difficult years. Natural disasters and historically poor planting conditions put farm workers in a tight spot as they started down a global crisis unlike any we have seen this generation. 

With shut downs and closures in the commercial food sector and disruption in distribution and production, the balance of supply and demand became a rollercoaster ride. Some regions experienced short-term, localized shortages while others were left with excess supply and waste.

But farmers kept farming. Ag workers kept working. And everyone benefited from their sacrifices. With coronavirus still looming large, no one can predict what adaptations will be necessary in the months to come, but we know our industry will do what it takes to weather the storm. 

Thank You, Agriculture Heroes

At Gills Onions, our employees are the heart of our company. That’s why the health and safety of our employees is our top priority, now more than ever before. 

We are doing everything we can to take care of our employees so that we can continue to provide the best value-add onion products in the nation. We’re providing our workforce with personal protective equipment (PPE) and essential supplies while increasing social distancing. Every employee is entitled to get treatment and testing for COVID-19 without any risk of losing employment, and we provide up to 80 hours of compensation for COVID-related absences. 

What can you do to help? Start by supporting local ag. Consider joining a community farm co-op, visiting the farmer’s market, and shopping local whenever possible. Get take-out from the restaurants in your neighborhood. When you see an ag worker, say thank you. 

And, the next time you eat an onion, think of all of us here at Gills Onions. We’ll be thinking of you. 

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

The Foodservice Recovery: How Value-Added Can Make a Difference

Innovation has always been essential for success in the foodservice industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved that principle once again. In unprecedented ways, the foodservice community has had to adapt to survive. In 2021, the industry is starting to recover, and innovation will be needed once again. 

At Gills Onions, we support our customers by offering value-added products that save them time and money. If you haven’t incorporated value-added produce into your line-up, now is the time. It’s an out-of-the-box — or in our case, out-of-the-bag — solution that can buoy up your business. And, our vegetables taste pretty amazing, too. 

The Challenges Facing Foodservice Recovery

As restaurants begin to reopen for indoor dining, it’s quickly becoming obvious that this isn’t a return to “normal.” Nothing is truly like what it was before quarantines and shutdowns. Take sanitation for example. Kitchens have always had high standards for cleanliness, but protecting food from germs and contamination has never been more important. 

Another new challenge is labor. The foodservice industry is starving, with retailers trying everything they can to attract interested prospective hires. One manager even recently offered to pay individuals $50 for simply coming in for a job interview. No one responded. Many businesses can’t offer pay that is competitive enough to beat out the combination of federal stimulus benefits and regular unemployment checks. And, with minimum wage and other employee cost increases, labor is becoming even more costly. 

Value-Added Products Can Solve These Challenges

Though the landscape can feel bleak, value-added products are a solution that you may not have considered. In a world where nothing has been consistent, these products can be the consistent force that helps stabilize a business. Here’s how:

  • Price. The cost of value-added products doesn’t change based on season or demand. Consistent pricing allows owners and chefs to plan budgets far in advance. 
  • Quality. At Gills Onions, we guarantee that our products offer consistent quality and yield. You always know exactly what you are going to get. One third of a sack of bulk onions is waste. That means you’re not really getting 50 pounds of usable onions. With value-added products, you know exactly how much usable product you’ll be receiving every time. 
  • Cleanliness. Bulk onions can bring harmful bacteria into your kitchen. Value-added products arrive cleaned, prepped, and ready to use. 
  • Labor. Speaking of arriving ready-to-use, value-added products save time and money by eliminating the labor needed to prep onions for use. Employees can dedicate their time to other essential tasks. 
  • Safety. Value-added products keep employees safe by reducing the risk of knife injuries. 

Use Gills Onions as a Resource

Our decades supporting the foodservice industry put us in a unique position to offer support and assistance at this unique time. We know your pain points, and we want to help you reach your full potential. We hope to be a resource to sales teams as they go out and sell produce, and a resource for producing the amazing value-added products that serve owners and chefs across the United States and Canada. 

Together, we can recover, and we will get back to what we all do best — bringing amazing food to the world. 

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

Cloud Kitchens: An Innovative Take on Foodservice

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 17% of US restaurants have closed their doors. In straight numbers, that translates to over 110,000 dining rooms that used to be filled with hungry customers. Since our onions used to be on the plates that now sit empty, we intimately understand the challenges restaurants are facing. 

With the industry in free fall, restaurant owners and chefs have been forced to adapt to survive. For some, cloud kitchens have been the answer. Let’s take a deeper look.

What Is a Cloud Kitchen?

Cloud kitchens, or ghost kitchens as some prefer to call them, allow restaurants and food brands to prepare meals for delivery and take out without a permanent brick and mortar space. These stripped-down versions of commercial kitchens are straight food preparation space — no dine-in option. But, they have everything needed to craft beautiful dishes with commercial kitchen equipment, dishwashers, and cold storage. Caterers have used these spaces for years to prepare meals for offsite events. 

Before the pandemic, about 15% of operators reported using a cloud kitchen, but by May of 2020, 51% of operators had turned to cloud kitchens to prepare some or all of their delivery orders. Other operators moved solely to cloud kitchens paired with take-out and delivery services to meet growing demands amidst lockdowns and quarantines. 

Food delivery apps have made delivery accessible and easy for everyone, with delivery sales growing 300% faster than dine-in over the last five years. That growth has only accelerated since COVID-19 arrived. 

The Cloud Kitchen Business Model

So, how exactly does a cloud kitchen work? Operators rent kitchen space from a landlord who owns kitchen facilities. These spaces are most common in densely populated urban areas. With kitchen space rented (for cheaper than the overhead of a restaurant space), brands get onto a food delivery app and start filling orders. The orders are picked up and sent out from the cloud kitchen space instead of a restaurant. 

Cloud kitchens have been used to launch new food brands for less. By having purely virtual interactions with customers, operators save on the cost of equipment, the cost of space, and the cost of labor. Existing brands have also used cloud kitchens to meet demand or expand their delivery range. 

But it’s not all easy money and success with cloud kitchens. Competition in delivery apps is growing. The perks of a storefront are free advertising and food traffic, sales boosts you don’t get when your restaurant is virtual. Chefs are also restricted by delivery area. A typical delivery radius is 3 to 5 miles from the kitchen, so you may be able to find kitchen space for cheap, but are there customers around? And let’s not forget that there is only so much kitchen space up for grabs.

Still, many brands have found cloud kitchens are the key to their success in a post-COVID market. 

Effects of Cloud Kitchens on the Ag Industry 

What challenges restaurants challenges the farmers who supply them. If there’s no one to eat food, the food doesn’t leave the field. At Gills Onions, many of our products are designed specifically with the food industry in mind. Items like our Whole Peeled Onions, Sliced Onions, and Slivered Onions are prepared and packaged to make chefs’ work easier and safer. When restaurants close their doors, agriculture hurts, too. 

Cloud kitchens are one innovative solution that the restaurant industry is using to bounce back, and they benefit those of us in agriculture just as much as those in food service. Cloud kitchens also present a unique opportunity for brands to partner with local farmers and source fresh produce from their own areas. 

Time will tell how the cloud kitchen concept develops and grows, but one thing is for sure: restaurants are here to stay, and we’ll be there to make sure they have all the onions they need. 

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

Chinese New Year: A Time to Celebrate Agriculture

The start of a new year is a time celebrated by countries and communities around the world as a time of renewal and reflection, but did you know that the new year also has many ties to agriculture? The Lunar New Year, often referred to as “Chinese New Year,” is the perfect example. (And onions even have a part in the celebration!)

The History of the Lunar New Year

In China, the Lunar New Year is one of the most important holidays of the year. China’s agrarian culture has thrived through the centuries, and the start of a new year was a time for farmers to rest from their work and celebrate.

The New Year marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring, the time that Chinese farmers considered the start of a new calendar cycle. They cleaned their fields and homes and prepared to plant new seeds. Friends and family traveled to be together and celebrate the start of a new year of prosperity and growth, both metaphorical and physical as new crops were planted. 

Lunar New Year celebrations begin on the new moon that occurs between the end of January and the end of February and last 15 days. On the seventh day of celebration, farmers traditionally displayed their produce. Historically, the new moon was a marker for when farmers should begin to plant crops. Plant too early and crops may fall victim to a late frost. Plant too soon and crops could miss out on essential spring rains. Hence, the “Lunar” New Year. While western calendars are based on the Earth’s orbit around the sun, the Chinese New Year is based on the moon’s orbit around the Earth.

The Year of the … What?

Another tie to agriculture is the Chinese zodiac. Each new year is marked by one of 12 zodiac animals and is said to carry the characteristics of that animal:

  • Rat – adaptable, stable, hardworking
  • Ox – diligent, strong, determined, dependable
  • Tiger – powerful, bold, wild
  • Rabbit – tender, patient, polite
  • Dragon – lucky, adventurous, brave
  • Snake – warm-hearted, passionate, perceptive
  • Horse – active, energetic, independent
  • Sheep – mild, considerate, thrifty
  • Monkey – intelligent, innovative, sociable
  • Rooster – hardworking, courageous, resourceful, observant, talented
  • Dog – kind, loyal, cautious, honest
  • Pig – generous, compassionate, diligent

The animals repeat in 12-year cycles. The year 2021 is the year of the Ox, a fitting tribute to the resilience and determination of farmers around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

New Year, New Food

Food is one of the most important components of Chinese New Year traditions and celebrations. Popular foods include sweet sticky rice cakes, noodles, dumplings, peanuts, and fish. 

While many traditional recipes include scallions over white or yellow onions, onions like those we grow at Gills Onions do make an appearance. And, many recipes can be adapted and spiced up with a dash of fresh onion. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Ginger-Onion Whole Steamed Fish – While this recipe focuses on green onions, finely chopped white or yellow onions stuffed into the fish or incorporated into the sauce add a nice depth of flavor. 
  • Long Chinese New Year Noodles – This take on the many noodle dishes served during Chinese New Year celebrations highlights fresh vegetables like mushrooms, bok choy, and bamboo shoots. Add in some onion and your other favorite vegetables, too. 
  • Szechuan Hot Pot – Every region of China has their own take on a hot pot meal. Adapt your hot pot to match favorite ingredients, like onion, from your home. 
  • Fortune Pockets – These dumplings combine meat, vegetables, and spices, and they can be steamed or deep fried. Add onions to your fillings and prepare with family and friends. Wrapping the pockets together is the perfect way to celebrate a new year. 

Don’t Forget About Farmers

Agriculture is one of the most essential industries in the world. Without the food that farmers grow, we wouldn’t have much to celebrate. However you choose to ring in the New Year, we encourage you to remember and support the hardworking farmers that make your meals possible. Cooking with onions is a great way to start. 

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

Gills Onions Can Help Restaurants Cut Costs and Combat COVID-19

COVID-19 has rocked the restaurant industry, with losses expected up to $240 billion by the end of 2020. At the height of quarantines and shutdowns, the average restaurant was forced to lay off 91% of their hourly workforce and 70% of salaried employees

Now, restaurants are facing the daunting challenge of reopening. There is an increased need to reduce labor and overall costs to compensate for capacity caps and slow returning customers. All restaurants — small, medium, and large — are rethinking their strategy, especially in the kitchen. 

An Increased Need for Value-Added 

Labor has always been a costly part of hospitality, but during and after the COVID-19 crisis, the cost of labor has become — and will continue to be — even more complicated. Staff need to be re-hired and re-trained for new standards of safety. And, with many businesses serving smaller numbers of customers and having a limited menu, staff is likely to remain small. 

Even with a properly trained staff that is in compliance with new health and safety standards, restaurant owners need to make sure that customers feel safe. Currently, only 62% of consumers believe that cooking food kills coronavirus, even though the CDC has confirmed that the virus does not spread through food. Reports show that 15% of customers are most concerned about returning to restaurants because of staff preparing or handling food. 

Value-added products reduce labor needs and minimize handling and exposure. 

For example, it typically takes 90 minutes for an employee to whole peel and dice a 50 lb sack of onions that will result in approximately 30 to 35 lbs of usable onions. That’s 90 minutes that onions are handled and exposed. 

As a value-added alternative, Gills Diced Onions limit the “touch factor” by arriving to the kitchen perfectly diced, perfectly clean, and ready to use. Each 5 lb bag offers 19 cups of diced onions that cost nothing in labor and can immediately be scooped or poured into recipes with little or no touch from employees. 

How Much Will You Save?

Buying a value-added product means that restaurant owners and chefs can more accurately plan for kitchen costs. The price of sack onions can fluctuate based on season and demand, while value-added products cost the same price year-round. 

At Gills Onions, onions are our specialty. If you heavily use onions in your kitchen, the savings can be tremendous. 

Many chefs choose to streamline their labor by selecting one cut and size of onions, putting all the onion product needed for every recipe in their kitchen into one bag. You’ll also save on storage space. Our bags of ready-to-use onions reduce the amount of excess packaging and boxes in your fridge. 

Use our Product Calculator to see how much you could save in labor and overall costs by switching to diced onions.

Our Team Is Here to Support You 

Even before the pandemic, Gills Onions has been committed to setting the standard in food safety. Our priority is protecting the integrity of our product through each step of processing and shipment so your kitchen can stay clean and continue to serve your customers.  

Our value-added products can cut costs and reduce needed labor as you rebuild. Together, we can face the challenges ahead and emerge stronger on the other side. We’re here to help, and we can’t wait to partner with you. 

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

A Little Onion Goes a Long Way: Boosting Your Respiratory Health

You’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat,” and it’s true! What we put into our bodies becomes the fuel that allows our essential systems to function. And when we’re sick, the food we eat becomes critical medicine that enables us to fight off illnesses. 

We’re living in an unprecedented time as COVID-19 challenges our health, our jobs, and our sense of normalcy. But, at Gills Onions, we are proud to continue to work hard to supply America with a safe product that works to promote healthy living and tastes great, too. 

Boost Your Respiratory Health with Onions

The best thing you can do during the COVID-19 crisis is practice social distancing guidelines and follow recommendations from the CDC and WHO. But, while you are staying home, remember that the food you eat can help your immune system prepare to fight germs and disease. Instead of gravitating toward processed foods, reach for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Onions, especially, give your body the power to battle toxins that lead to illness because they contain high amounts of essential nutrients including: 

  • Vitamin C
  • Dietary fiber
  • Folic acid
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc

The National Onion Association also reports that the organosulfur compounds responsible for the taste and smell of onions can reduce symptoms from diabetes and prevent inflammation from asthma.

For centuries, onions have been used as a home remedy to treat coughs and colds. Drinking onion juice or making your own onion syrup can soothe irritated throats. Those same sulfuric compounds that prevent inflammation also help fight mucus and act as a natural expectorant. 

Quercetin: Key for Good Health

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but the same could be said of onions. Like apples, onions contain quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that helps delay oxidative damage to cells and tissue. It also has antiviral properties and histamine regulating effects. 

Studies have shown that quercetin eliminates free radicals in the body, protects and regenerates vitamin E, and deactivates the harmful effects of chelate metal ions. It strengthens capillary walls to reduce inflammation and can also protect the lining of the lungs and bronchial tubes from damage caused by pollution and other contaminants in the air. 

Recent studies at Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, demonstrate that the body absorbs three times more quercetin from onions than from apples. So, when in doubt, add some onion into your diet. 

Uniting Together to Fight for Good Health 

At Gills Onions and throughout the onion industry, we truly believe that onions are the perfect vegetable. For centuries, they have been a staple in diets around the world, and modern science continues to show us what eating onions can do for our collective health. Every fruit or vegetable that you eat fuels your body and boosts your immune system. 

As we face uncertainty, we hope that you will stand together with your communities and work to keep each other safe. Our team will continue to work hard to provide you with fresh vegetables that elevate your health and provide a consistent source of nutrition for our society year-round. 

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