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After years of looking for an animated character with which to partner to promote sweet Vidalia onions, the Vidalia Onion Committee in Vidalia, GA, finally found the right match with the hugely popular Shrek character, and excited retailers are poised to reap the benefits.

"This is probably the biggest marketing campaign the Vidalia Onion Committee has ever done," said Wendy Brannen, executive director of the committee. "We do have industrywide participation. Every major grower- packer is on board in some way, shape or form with the program, which is fantastic for all of us."

Shrek, a gentle ogre, is the lead character in a DreamWorks Studios series of movies, which is concluding with the May 21 release of the fourth and final chapter "Shrek Forever After" - available in 3-D.

The committee's tag line for the season is "Shrek Forever After, Vidalias Forever Sweet."

"Shrek has overwhelming recognizability with parents and children, and we felt like it was a partnership we could make work," Ms. Brannen said. "I don't know if you could tie a princess to an onion, but an ogre that everybody likes -- sure, we can do that."

The campaign uses Shrek and other characters from the movies on a number of different fronts to promote Vidalia onions.

The committee has produced some of the largest and best point-of-sale materials it has ever done for this campaign. "I feel confident saying that bar none, during my tenure, before my tenure, probably to continue in my tenure, these are the best point-of-sale materials we have ever been able to put out," Ms. Brannen said. "We have never had anything of this caliber. We are proud of everything we have ever done, but this is a whole new level to be able to have the Shrek characters and images on our point-of-sale materials."

Available are box or display toppers, floor stands, recipe tear-off pads and shelf cards, and the materials are expected to be ready for retailers by the beginning of April. Ms. Brannen said that retailers should ask their suppliers for the materials because they are large (the floor stand is about six feet tall) and the shippers can include the p-o-s kits with onion loads.

A consumer contest, promoted through the p-o-s materials and offered on the Vidalia Onion Committee's web site, will award one grand prize and 100 first-place prizes. "We have partnered with a company called [Activision Blizzard Inc.] that produces all of the Shrek [video] games, and so we have just Shrektacular prize packages this year," Ms. Brannen said. "The grand prize in our consumer program is a 50-inch high-def TV, a Wii console and a 'Shrek Forever After' game. We'll have 100 first-place winners that will get the 'Shrek Forever After' game."

Beginning April 15, a game will be available on the committee's web site that will enable visitors to enter the contest.

"We have this game that we are developing in conjunction with DreamWorks that we are calling Shrek's Hunt & Peel game. You will actually help Shrek forage for onions in the forest, and as you find those Vidalia onions, we will have Vidalia trivia that is revealed. And then in the end, they will be entered - - however many onions they find is however many times they will be entered -- to win the video gaming package. The level of graphics is so far beyond anything I thought we would be able to offer." There are additionally other Shrek-themed elements for kids on the web site like mouse clicker icons and coloring pages.

Retailers have not been left out of the committee's contests. This year, they have the chance to win a three-day, two-night trip for four to Orlando, FL, "where they will get to go to [Universal Studios Florida] and go to the Shrek 4-D interactive exhibit," Ms. Brannen said.

The retailer display contest will be held from April 15 through Aug. 15. Produce departments interested in entering must create "the most Shrektacular, original Vidalia onion display." Then they will need to submit a photo of the display along with the retailer's name, the produce manager's name and contact information to the committee by Aug. 15.

The committee will be running some radio spots in select markets and providing in-store point-of-sale radio spots for retailers with public address marketing systems that want to make use of them. The FM radio spots will target consumers and will inform them about the on-line contest, and the in-store radio spots are a new promotional avenue for the committee.

"The point-of-purchase radio spots will air the entire month of May in major markets on the West Coast and Plains States. They are 30-second spots that will air all day, every day, for the entire month of May directly to shoppers while they are in-store," Ms. Brannen said, and they will feature voices of characters from the Shrek movie.

Partnering with Milk Media Inc., which operates MilkRocks.com, the committee will be promoting Vidalia onions in schools. "We are partnering with the company that puts milk cartons in schools, and we will have Shrek and Vidalia onions on the back of 30 million milk cartons throughout the country," Ms. Brannen said. "Those are going to be targeted to major metropolitan areas, and that will be during a two-week window in the month of May."

The two-week promotion on the cartons will direct kids to MilkRocks.com, where they can enter to win one of 100 "Shrek Forever After" video games. According to committee literature, "The promotion will help the Vidalia Onion Committee reach a younger demographic and attract more attention to the Shrek Forever After, Vidalias Forever Sweet campaign."

A final element of the Shrek campaign will be movie-themed recipes developed specifically for the committee's promotion. "We had Chef Todd Fisher out of Salinas, California, create some Shrek-specific recipes for us," Ms. Brannen said. "Chef Todd has done a lot of work in the produce industry and also with children, so we thought he would be a great fit to help us come up with these. And we have just these fantastic names like Donkey savory onion parfait, Fiona's favorite funyuns and Shrek toadstool stacks."

The recipes incorporate a lot of vegetables of many kinds into presentations that are appealing to children, helping parents to add more healthy food items into their children's diets. Vidalia onions play a starring role, but the committee made a point of incorporating many different healthy ingredients into the recipes.

The recipes will be on special Shrek Vidalia onion packaging, on the p-o-s tear-off pads and at the committee's web site, VidaliaOnion.org.

(For more on Vidalia onions, see the March 22, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)