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VIDALIA, GA -- Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, here, has several new promotional programs planned to improve the consumer awareness of and dedication to the famous sweet Vidalia onion.

The committee has traditionally focused on national promotions, but "we are actually taking a different direction with our promotional programs" this year, Ms. Brannen said.

"Instead of doing these blanketed programs, we are going to do targeted programs with specific retailers in several regions to do in-store promotions." The commission procured sales data that indicate where Vidalia onion sales are strong and where there is room for expansion. The cities that showed the most room for growth are New York, New Orleans and Nashville, TN.

"Interestingly, we just blow it out in the Northeast with sales," Ms. Brannen said. "In fact, we sell better in the Northeast than we do in the Southeast. But there is that pinhole in New York City." In New York, the committee has partnered with the New York Apple Association to do in-store promotions and demonstrations with Vidalia onions and New York-grown McIntosh apples. In the other two cities, the committee will conduct the promotions on its own.

For retailers not in those three selected cities, "As always, we will have very beautifully designed, high-quality, colorful materials available to all retail chains that request it," Ms. Brannen said.

Another promotional endeavor is a contest the commission is conducting called Sweet Times, Taste the Memories. "This contest for cash prizes encourages consumers to send in heirloom Vidalia recipes or nostalgic Vidalia stories." Promoted and presented through in-store point-of-sale materials, on-line marketing, retail in-store demos and a public relations effort, the contest "is very exciting for us," Ms. Brannen said.

After the contest had been planned, the committee learned that well-known country music singer Trisha Yearwood "has released a cookbook [titled Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen, Random House Inc., 2008] in which she talks about her nostalgic love of Vidalia onions, and the cookbook contains a recipe" from her uncle, Wilson Paulk, that uses Vidalia onions. The committee has secured permission to use the recipe and will be incorporating it into the promotion materials.

"So essentially, we will be sharing Trisha's nostalgic recipe and encouraging her fans and ours to share theirs," Ms. Brannen said.

Inspired by the success of a promotion in which the committee participated with Corona beer featuring fresh salsa and guacamole with Vidalia onions, "I have signed a deal with A&W Root Beer," Ms. Brannen said. "We will be working with A&W on a summer on-pack promotion. A&W in the No. 1- selling root beer in America, with their peak sales on July 4."

During the promotional period, which will begin in June and culminate with the July 4 holiday, "2.5 million two-liter bottles [of A&W root beer] will go out with neck danglers with booklets attached that will feature recipes, product info and coupons" relating to Vidalia onions.

"Additionally, we have teamed up with the National Watermelon Promotion Board, another summertime favorite, to include Vidalia onions and watermelon recipes in these booklets." The committee selected two "very fun, at-home-cook-friendly recipes featuring Vidalia onions and watermelon to put in those books."

Rounding out the committee's marketing and promotion efforts for this season, "We are working on a new Vidalia recipe book this year with new photography focusing on" Vidalia onion rings, Ms. Brannen said. The book will prominently feature a recipe created by Evangelos (Spike) Mendelsohn, one of the contestants on season four of the television program "Top Chef," that is on the menu in his Good Stuff Eatery restaurant in Washington, DC. The book will feature only Vidalia onion rings and will provide recipes detailing many different ways of preparing the dish with a different sauce recipe for each ring style.

The Vidalia Onion Committee produces a twice-a-year newsletter to which retailers may subscribe that in its first edition announces the promotions as they approach and "a forecast of the season." In its second edition, the committee provides a report on the execution of the programs.

(For more on the Vidalia onion deal, see the March 16 issue of The Produce News.)
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