Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Horseradish maker fills gap from Midwestern drought

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Foods CEO Domonic Biggi's company produces an array of flavors of horseradish at its plant in Hillsboro.From a bin in a bone-chillingly cold storage room at Beaverton Foods Inc., Domonic Biggi snaps open one of the hundreds of thick, white horseradish roots ready to be processed into bottled condiments at the Hillsboro plant.

“These are hard — nice and white in the middle,” observes the company’s chief executive officer, sampling a small piece of the raw, bitter product. “We’re getting the fall crop in.”

The quantity and condition of the horseradish booty bodes well after a sweltering summer across much of the United States has negatively affected corn, soy and horseradish crops, particularly in the drought-stricken Midwestern farm belt.

With manufacturers in the Midwest hard hit by drought, Beaverton Foods is well positioned and prepared for an uptick in orders this fall from distributors in need of prepared horseradish. Because Beaverton Foods’ horseradish comes from the Seues family in more temperate Klamath Falls, the Beaverton-rooted business has been able to keep production moving where others have — literally — dried up. by: JAIME VALDEZ - Beaverton Foods CEO Domonic Biggi stands in a cooler where horseradish is stored before being produced. Beaverton Foods purchases its horseradish from a family in Southern Oregon.

Biggi says the Midwestern drought will not affect the company’s supply or pricing of its Inglehoffer, Beaver or Tulelake horseradish products.

“The drought will affect horseradish farmers and manufacturers around the country,” Biggi says. “The short supply will force manufacturers to use fillers like parsnips, potatoes and turnips, which affect taste and quality. We have plenty of horseradish thanks to our three-generation relationship with the Seues family.”

Since its founding in 1929, Beaverton Foods has created a strong niche in the Pacific Northwest as well as throughout the U.S. and 12 foreign countries. But it’s the Midwest that’s been known since the 19th century as the “the Horseradish Belt,” Biggi says, with Illinois producing more of the spicy stuff than any other state, according to a source at the University of Missouri.

“The Midwest is struggling,” Biggi says, noting the extent of the crop damage and its effect on the horseradish market will become known in the coming weeks. “It’ll be in the next month or so when they start digging the fall crops in Illinois and Wisconsin.”

If the Biggi family’s business picks up as a result of the Midwestern drought, it will continue a trend of strong sales of its 150 products that’s carried through the lingering economic recession. Although the various flavors of mustards dominate Beaverton Foods’ sales, horseradish has more than held its own as customers expand their home-cooking pallets to save money eating out at restaurants.

“Horseradish sales have been up and continue to grow,” Biggi says, noting the company has avoided layoffs among its 72 employees. “We’ve done great. It’s been some of our best years.”

Beaverton Foods, which started on a farm near the present-day Round at Beaverton Central mixed-use development, hasn’t raised horseradish roots in the Beaverton area “probably in my lifetime,” he says. “I remember going to Sauvie Island and picking roots with my dad.”

The company left the farming business entirely in 1979. The Seues family, which originally specialized in onions and potatoes, formed a synergistic relationship with the Biggi family business by expanding into horseradish crops.

“It’s a win-win,” Biggi says of the partnership that started in 1974.

Ironically, Dominic’s grandmother Rose, who founded Beaverton’s most famous horseradish business, made no bones — among family, at least — about her taste for the piercingly hot, white-root based condiment.

“For 40 or 50 years, she got up and washed roots for a living, but never ate the product,” Domonic says, lovingly mimicking Rose’s old-World Italian accent. “She would always say, ‘All I like-a about the horse a-radish is the money.’”

Her grandson feels a bit closer to the product, however.

“I’ve always liked horseradish,” he says.