In 2005, three partners with experience in the produce industry, cousins Shawn and Trent Hartley and their business partner Brad Dahl, purchased a family-run company called Utah Onions. “The company was already doing really well,” says Shawn Hartley, now the VP of Sales and Marketing. “But we brought in new technology, improved the food safety processes, expanded the business and established more direct relationships with our customers, including Sysco.” With growing territories in Washington, Oregon, Texas and New Mexico—in addition to Utah—the company rebranded in 2017 as Onions 52. “We couldn’t keep it locked into Utah per se,” says Hartley. “It caused too much confusion for customers.” The new name also reflects the fact that the company, serving widespread regions onions all 52 weeks of the year.
As growers, we feel it is very important to be keepers of the land and stewards of the land.
Growth and Sustainability
Each growing territory has its own distinct advantages, says Hartley. Washington is known for its excellent reds and whites. Idaho and Utah provide large Spanish-style onions, perfect for many food service uses. New Mexico and Mexico support the Northwest with a reliable 12-month growing season, allowing the company to supply Sysco with onions throughout the year, including in the summer. Onions 52 doesn’t take its growth for granted. “As growers, we feel it is very important to be keepers of the land and stewards of the land,” says Hartley. “We have been working on sustainability for years, and it’s a continuing process. In certain locations, we try to keep wind erosion down; in others, we work to keep water evaporation down.” One environmental positive about growing onions: The crop is good for the soil. You never want to sow onions in the same field season after season, Hartley says, but whatever follows them, whether it’s corn, potatoes or hay, generally thrives from the nutrients left behind.
The Perfect Partnership
Since 2010, Onions 52 has been supplying onions directly to Sysco, and in 2018 the company earned a Bronze Medal as Top Produce Supplier. “We work great together,” says Hartley. “We enjoy supplying Sysco all over the U.S. and Canada.”The partnership benefits both sides. Onions 52 has a transportation hub in Utah and the ability to ship from all over the country. “Because of that, we can help Sysco keep down the cost of goods and keep them as competitive as possible,” says Hartley. Selling to Sysco has also helped Onions 52 grow aggressively. “Once [Sysco] commits to us, we know we can plant more onions, because the buyer is going to be there. And that’s a great partnership.”