hat leaves more of an impact: money, power, or change? If you’re John Shuman, you would go for the last.
Money comes and goes. Power is fleeting. But change? Societal, environmental, even nutritional can leave an impact felt for generations. And, coming from a second-generation farmer, those roots run deep.
“How can we use the resources we’ve been entrusted with and improve them to grow the business, so it is sustainable for the future and the next generation can come in and continue to have access to these resources? We don’t want to deplete our finite properties,” John shares with me on a bright Friday morning. “That’s why it’s a focus for Shuman Farms: because we are farmers, we are growers, and we’re on the farm every day.”
This desire stems not only from the need to create a change within the industry, but to do so for the communities depending on fresh produce. For John, President and Chief Executive Officer, change comes from the need to be more sustainable in our industry.
“I see sustainability in a much bigger, broader way because it impacts every part of our business,” he says, a thought I find myself nodding along to. “Sustainability in and of itself is how we can preserve the resources we’ve been entrusted with. They can be natural resources or human ones, but our business is in preserving and conserving them both, being able to manage and empower them to grow our business in a way that’s generational.”
It’s a stance and legacy that’s already in the making.
In an industry full of innovation and advancements, Shuman Farms believes in the preservation of our Earth as well as its inhabitants in order to enact a positive change that will be beneficial for years to come. In fact, sustainability is a core tenant of Shuman Farms. This mindset leads back to the company’s four pillars: serve, sustain, innovate, and give back.
“We’re known for our products, especially our premium sweet onions; it’s who we are, and it permeates every aspect of our lives.”
John Shuman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Shuman Farms
“Our four pillars came to be over a 20-year process. I looked around and realized that delivering a load of Vidalia® onions is not a competitive difference,” John chuckled. “So, I sat down one day and looked at some of our core strengths, and I came up with customer service. To serve is to treat our customers like family and to provide consistency. That is the heart of customer service: consistency.”
Customer service can be the dealbreaker when it comes to loyalty, both for buyers and shoppers. Our industry does its best to predict weather and plan for demand, but knowing what to expect when interacting with another business is essential.
To provide that service, the people have to be a part of the equation. As one of Shuman’s values, sustain is applicable to both the workforce and the produce.
“We look at sustainability from the enterprise, and we start with our people. How can we empower them, build a culture, and enable them to grow?” John ponders. “I believe in helping our people improve, both personally and professionally. Just being healthy, mentally and physically, is a very important focus for us and helps our business grow.”
Sustainability is a two-point value, as the grower also believes in being good stewards of the land. The best products are grown from the best resources, and Shuman Farms’ renowned onions come from some of the best farmland in the southeastern United States.
“Managing our soil and water resources are always top of mind and a huge part of our sustainability pledge. We’re known for our products, especially our premium sweet onions; it’s who we are, and it permeates every aspect of our lives,” John continues. “So, we endeavor to grow products that are safe, healthy, and clean. And that leads to innovation.”
Innovation is a skill Shuman Farms has in spades. Onions are a healthy addition to any diet, but keeping the category exciting is a challenge every sector feels. Shuman keeps the creative juices flowing for its sweet onions as it employs innovative marketing, helping retailers build successful programs and engaging with shoppers to fill up the basket.
“Vidalias® are so special and unique. It was the first nationally marketed sweet onion in America, and now it’s also known to give back to those in need. It’s in our very foundation.”
“At the end of the day, if our customers are successful and the category is growing, we look at ourselves as a fruit hanging on their tree,” John observes, a point we both chuckle at. “The retailer would be the tree, and we’re the fruit. If the tree’s healthy, it stands to reason we’re going to be healthy. We all want to grow the category, so we spend a lot of time with innovative marketing. That’s what we all get up and go to work every day for, right?”
It was through this innovative marketing viewpoint that John came up with a program called Produce for Kids in the mid-2000s. Now, it is known as the Healthy Family Project. The company’s first cause marketing program was created to give back to the communities—an initiative we here at The Snack have watched bloom and expand for many years now. The program helped build an umbrella organization for the produce industry to come together and support retailers and their cause marketing efforts throughout their communities.
“Giving back has always been a central focus for Shuman Farms, and we’ve been doing it for over 20 years. It’s something we continue to grow and spend a lot of time and resources on each and every year,” John explains. “We wanted to give back to the communities that support our products. In doing so, we are doing one of the most sustainable things we can as a company; it pairs nicely with our efforts to support Feeding America®.”
And it is a program I personally love seeing advertised every summer. Shuman Farms is a year-round supporter of Feeding America, a nationwide group of food banks that help combat food insecurity. As a food producer, John feels it’s his and the company’s responsibility to support this initiative, whether through food donations, volunteering time, or financial aid. Another way the company sheds light on this important program is by branding its premium 5 lb Vidalia onion bag with the Feeding America logo as part of its summer promotions.
“We’re excited about the summer, as Vidalia onions are coming out of storage. Throughout June, we partner with Feeding America because it’s an especially tough time for people with food insecurity, particularly with children who get their meals at school,” John says. “Vidalias are so special and unique. It was the first nationally marketed sweet onion in America, and now it’s also known to give back to those in need. It’s in our very foundation. Shuman Farms has become known as a leader in the Vidalia sweet onion industry. From innovation to our reputation for producing a consistent, high-quality product, our core values have shaped everything we do.”
From the tiniest change comes the biggest impact, a ripple effect along the strands of time. It’s inherent in our industry to protect our precious resources, but it takes a few certain individuals to stand up for the most challenging ideals and follow through to the end. And that’s a lesson we can all take to heart.