s Georgian as Coca-Cola, the Stone Mountains, and the Golden Isles, Vidalia onions are truly unique—a testament to the strength of the produce industry. John Shuman, President and CEO of Shuman Produce, understands the journey of the Vidalia onion as well as anyone. When I spoke with him about the bulbous wonder, he elucidated what makes him passionate about the Vidalia onion and how that has driven the category for Shuman Produce.
Geneva Hutcheson: What differentiates Shuman’s Vidalia onion program from its competition, and what makes a RealSweet® Vidalia onion particularly unique?
John Shuman: Shuman Produce is a family of farms. Over 20 years ago, we decided that we could achieve more collectively than individually. That decision has resulted in one of the most well-designed programs in the Vidalia sweet onion industry. Today, Shuman Produce and the RealSweet® brand remain one of the most recognized and trusted programs in the industry. Our commitment to each other is our strength.
Shuman Produce expanded in April of 2017 with the purchase of a Vidalia onion packing facility and 620 acres of farmland. Since that time, there have been extensive renovations made to the facility to improve efficiencies and modernize. These include a new shipping cooler, state-of-the-art Compac grader/sorter and new bagging machines, new drying/curing rooms, additional cold-storage capacity, and a purchase of over 9,000 macro-plastic bins.
Every decision we make is to improve our overall program, and to provide consistent customer service, quality, and innovative marketing to our customers. Vidalia sweet onions can only grow in a small area in southeast Georgia. Our unique soil and climate are what make these onions some of the sweetest on the market.
GH: How do you recommend that retailers market RealSweet Vidalia onions?
JS: Customers rely on us to enhance their merchandising efforts, so we work hard to stay on the forefront of current trends. We continue to think of new ways to improve our current programs. Shuman Produce offers customized on-package coupon cross-promotions, POS materials, and attractive packaging made from high-quality materials.
“The bin features health benefits and usage suggestions as well as tips on a variety of savory dishes to prepare.”
This season, Shuman Produce is unveiling a new, redesigned secondary display bin. This eye-catching bin is perfect for use inside the produce department and in other areas of the store to drive sales for cross promotions. The bin features health benefits and usage suggestions as well as tips on a variety of savory dishes to prepare. Retailers can stock the new bin with either consumer bags or loose RealSweet Vidalia onions. Shuman Produce also offers a variety of consumer pack options, secondary and large displays, and display-ready containers and cartons that can address a customer’s specific needs.
GH: What do the numbers tell you about opportunities in this category?
JS: Three out of five households purchase sweet onions. Consumers who purchase sweet onions typically have a bigger ring at the register than those who don’t. Vidalia sweet onions are commonly purchased with fresh meat, peppers, potatoes, mushrooms, and celery. Pairing these items together and offering recipe ideas is a simple, yet effective, way to drive sales across these categories.
GH: What opportunities for growth exist in this category? How do you recommend that retailers access these?
JS: The key to growth in the Vidalia onion industry, as well as the entire produce industry, is to educate our younger generations on the many health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Making that information readily available to consumers, along with great tasting recipes, boosts the movement toward healthier food choices. And this is what Produce for Kids® is all about. Shuman Produce founded Produce for Kids (PFK) in 2002. Today, PFK is dedicated to educating parents and children on the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, as well as supporting local charitable organizations such as Feeding America.
GH: Are there any common misconceptions about the category that you would like to expel? Or little-known facts to which you would like to draw our readers’ attention?
JS: In 2018, there are just over 30 different registered growers in the Vidalia industry, which is limited to a growing area of 20 Southeast Georgia counties. But more than 75 percent of the industry’s acreage is grown and packed in just two of those counties; Tattnall and Toombs, with Tattnall County being the largest producer. This makes its appeal and unique background that much more a benefit for retailers.
GH: What makes you passionate about being in the Vidalia onion business?
JS: Based in Tattnall County, the largest producing county in the Vidalia onion growing region, Vidalia onions become a way of life for you and your family. Each spring, the smells of harvest trigger good memories, and it means spring is here. It reminds me of growing up playing baseball; the scent of a leather baseball glove recalls summertime memories for me. There are things in life that have a certain smell that brings back memories. That’s the same way Vidalia onions are to me—the sights, sounds, and smells of the harvest trigger great memories for me and my family, and excitement builds as a new crop is on the way.
Vidalia onions have been at the heart of our family’s legacy for three generations. The core values that were passed down to me are the ones I will pass along to my children and grandchildren. Quality, customer service, innovative marketing, and giving back is about more than just sweet onions. These principles can be applied to several aspects of life.
Onions are a way of life for more than just John; they are the backbone of every soup, the flavor behind every stir-fry, and crunch on every burger. And, with Vidalia season finally upon us, I can’t wait to incorporate Vidalia sweet onions into a plethora of dishes.