BY LINDA BAKER
// Photo by Sierra Breshears
CEO: Bob Hale
Fun Fact: Supplies 100% of red onions to all 23,000 North American Subway restaurants
You won’t catch Bob Hale crying over onions — whole, processed or fresh cut. The CEO of River Point Farms in Hermiston, Hale presides over the largest onion growing and processing operation in the country, with 450 million pounds of overall onion volume each year. The company grossed $70 million this past year and is on track to gross $100 million by 2018.
Some of that growth is expected to result from a deal Hale struck this past fall, when he and his brother Rick bought back control of River Point, which has roots in a small farm Hale purchased back in 1977.
The purchase will allow River Point to expand its growing, production, packing, shipping and product offerings. It also reflects the onion grower’s vertically integrated business strategy. “What differentiates us is we not only plant the seed, but we control the process from planting to harvesting to storing to fresh-cut processing to packaging to shipping,” Hale says. “We are seed to shelf.”
Headquartered in Northeastern Oregon, River Point supplies about 60 contract customers, including industrial ingredient, food service and restaurant chains such as Subway, Wendy’s, Panera and Chipotle. The company also sells to many grocery stores. Its big-league success is rooted in natural as well as strategic causes, Hale says.
“I always say I chose to be born in the Columbia Basin because there’s no better place to grow onions in the world,” says 59-year-old Hale, who grew up in Echo and now splits his time between Hermiston and Portland, where his wife, Kelly, is a senior vice president with RBC Wealth Management.
Capitalizing on the area’s sunny days and a long growing season, River Point has implemented several initiatives to help ensure customers don’t decamp for the competition. The nation’s onion consumption is “fairly inelastic,” with consumption growing about 4% to 5% a year, says Hale. “So for us to grow, we have to take market share from someone else.”
One tactic is to supply national brands year-round, a commitment aided by River Point’s state-of-the-art climate-controlled warehouses, which are capable of storing 300 million pounds of bulbs, available for shipping at the customer’s request. To meet client demand, the company also grows onions in four states: Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California. Hale now has his eye on Texas and Georgia, states that will put River Point onions closer to East Coast markets.