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Conquering Time

Conquering Time

Twenty years is a span of time that holds the infinite potential for evolution. While time can be monitored and tracked on a clock or a calendar, it is easy to lose sight of its significance as it steadily ticks by. It is only when passing time is put into perspective that its true weight is fully grasped.

Quickly thinking back two decades ago, one may remember not only the start of a new century but a new millennium, the debut of the iPod, or Tiger Woods winning the Masters and becoming the first golfer to ever hold all four major championships at the same time. But what isn’t always obvious in the 240 months, 1,040 weeks, or 7,300 days that have passed since then is the potential for countless advancements and pivotal decisions that existed in each one of those moments.

You may be asking why I’m spouting off about time.

It’s not to remind us how quickly or slowly it seems to pass in any given instant, but to remind us of the impact time holds in fresh produce.

We are in an industry where one day can impact the remainder of a season, the success of a company, or the introduction of a transformative new product. Having twenty years of days like this goes beyond reaching milestones; it’s what legacies are made of.

For those at Shuman Farms, they know the impact of making it two decades in the game because they have already begun achieving it. This year, the company’s RealSweet® brand is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and to emphasize the weight of such a monumental triumph, the team is shining a spotlight on the brand as well as the product that has garnered so much success: the Vidalia® onion.

After shifting my own perception, I sat down with the President and CEO of Shuman Farms, John Shuman, a man who continues to play a vital role in both Shuman Farms’ and the RealSweet brand’s success. Together, we journey back through the last two decades that have shaped the brand’s continued evolution and look forward to what Shuman Farms has in store as it continues to conquer time.


JP: John, Shuman Farms is a company that has dedicated a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to evolving the Vidalia onion category while still holding true to a key set of core values. What does the 20th anniversary of the RealSweet brand mean to you and the Shuman Farms family?

JS: For more than 35 years, the Shuman family has been in the Vidalia onion business. When we created the RealSweet brand 20 years ago, we set out to create the most trusted brand in the sweet onion category. That decision has resulted in one of the most well-designed programs in the Vidalia sweet onion industry.

Through the RealSweet brand, our commitment to superior quality, excellent customer service, innovative marketing, and giving back to those in need shined through and continues to do so today. Those core values were passed down to me, and they are the ones I will pass along to my children and grandchildren.

After all these years, Shuman Farms and the RealSweet brand remain one of the most recognized and trusted programs in the industry because of those values and our commitment to each other.

 

JP: With so much history and wisdom guiding the brand forward, how has RealSweet evolved over the last 20 years? What do you find most surprising from the time the brand was founded to today?

JS: Over the years, the RealSweet brand has evolved into one of the leading brands in the produce industry focused on delivering on those promised four pillars of quality, customer service, innovative marketing, and giving back. Each year, we challenge ourselves to bring new and innovative programs to market that not only help our retail partners sell more sweet onions but drive incremental sales in the produce department.

Since the 1990s, we have partnered with industry-leading Vidalia growers to bring only the sweetest onions to shelves. Realizing that we could do more together than individually has allowed us to establish and expand one of the leading and most recognizable brands in the industry.

JP: Supporting communities and charitable giving are a large part of Shuman’s philosophy as well as that of the RealSweet brand. How is that aspect playing into the company’s history and this year’s celebration?

JS: We wanted to honor our core pillar of giving back with our 2021 Giving Back Challenge, which will benefit local food banks as part of our partnership with Feeding America®.

Every year, the Shuman team volunteers at our local Feeding America food bank, America's Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia in Savannah, and last year we donated almost 13,000 pounds of RealSweet onions to the same location. We really wanted to share in the opportunity to give back through a creative competition.

Retailers who enter are asked to put together a creative display using our RealSweet Feeding America branded marketing tools and have their associates submit their volunteer hours from within the community. In the end, we will make donations to the winners’ choice of food banks. The competition is a great chance to make a difference in local communities.

“Realizing that we could do more together than individually has allowed us to establish and expand one of the leading and most recognizable brands in the industry.”

John Shuman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Shuman Farms

JP: In the same vein of giving back, you founded the Produce For Kids® brand, which is also coming up on its 20-year anniversary and recent expansion. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

JS: I had a goal 20 years ago to bring the produce industry brand to give back, so we created the Produce For Kids brand. Now, as we pass $7 million raised, I realize there’s no limit to the impact we can make as an organization in the healthy living space. That is why we expanded the brand to Healthy Family Project, which now includes not only the Produce For Kids campaign under that umbrella, but Food Rx, Power Your Lunchbox, and Mission for Nutrition as well. We are excited to expand in a way that will allow us to extend our effectiveness for our current and new produce partners while continuing to be a resource for healthy families and giving back to those in need.

JP: While 2020 was a tough year for many, Shuman Farms managed to find valuable silver linings during that time. Along with the RealSweet brand and Produce For Kids brand anniversaries, you have been chosen as the 2020 Vidalia Onion Grower of the Year by the Vidalia Onion Committee. What does this achievement say about Shuman Farms’ perseverance and dedication to the industry?

JS: I’m honored to receive this recognition from the Vidalia Onion Committee on behalf of the entire Shuman Farms team. It takes a village to do what we do, so this honor is thanks to everyone at Shuman Farms. It would not be possible without the dedicated team of people I am blessed to work with. Our success is thanks to the hard work and passion that they bring to their job every day.

2020 proved to be challenging for the Vidalia onion season, but my driven team and I overcame those obstacles to deliver consistent, premium-quality products to the market.

Our perseverance led us to get over 600 acres of Vidalia onions in the ground this year while maintaining our strong business relationships across the industry. In staying committed to our company’s core pillars, we are now on track to ship our amazing RealSweet Vidalia onions from the end of April into the summer months. I think that in itself is a testament to not only our drive but our devotion to providing the best product possible.

JP: All of these celebrations would be missing something without food to enjoy, and I know you have renowned Chef Shannen Tune whipping up something exciting. What’s next for your partnership?

JS: One exciting aspect of our future plans includes our continued partnership with Chef Shannen Tune, former Chopped Champion and Founder of Craft Burger. Chef Tune’s culinary motto is, “The difference between good and great is giving big attention to the little details,” and that is something that resonated with us because of the focus and effort we put in at Shuman Farms and with our RealSweet brand.

Chef Tune has already put together a wide variety of RealSweet onion-based recipes and has done segments on our farms, but he’s back and preparing another round of delicious recipes featuring Vidalia onions for his Ain’t Life Sweet—From Home series. We’re hoping that maybe later in the summer or early fall we can get him back out at events cooking up samples.


As I finish my conversation with John, I find myself glancing at the calendar on my wall—all of the upcoming deadlines, events, and reminders—and I imagine John and those at Shuman Farms are doing the exact same thing. However, instead of scribbled notes and to-dos, they see a pathway weaved throughout time that will continue a legacy decades in the making. Each empty square or fully booked day represents the possibility of what the future will hold. And for Shuman Farms, the calendar is never-ending, just like its desire to keep evolving.