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John Shuman knows a thing or two about marketing sweet onions. As president of Shuman Produce Inc. in Reidsville, GA, he has helped launch some memorable campaigns, most notably the decade-old Produce for Kids program that supports Children's Miracle Network hospitals and PBS Kids.

PFK has grown into a sizable charitable entity in its own right, but it started out as a single-season promotional campaign, designed to help Shuman move more of his "RealSweet" brand Vidalia onions during the spring and summer. It has grown into the perfect marketing vehicle — a win-win for all involved.

Moving into this holiday season, Mr. Shuman has some marketing advice for retailers hoping to push sweet onion sales: Focus on displays, packaging, pricing and giving consumers options.

“Displays will drive sales,” Mr. Shuman said. “The best displays include a variety of packages in all sizes along with bulk product. We recommend maintaining a year-round assortment of all packs that can then be adjusted to your customers’ tastes. As a staple category, sweet onions are best located in the center of the produce section for maximum sales potential. An increase in display size or the implementation of a secondary display is the perfect way to attract shoppers and cover volume needs during the holiday season.”

Consumers are looking for more than just a nice onion, Mr. Shuman said. “Packaging absolutely makes a difference, and the 'RealSweet’ brand maintains high-graphic and informational packaging all year long as a part of our innovative marketing programs. Product packaging that offers see- through bag material, onion varietal identification, menu ideas and preparation tips will entice consumers to purchase more.”

Recipes and preparation ideas are popular with consumers, but they can also serve as powerful marketing tools. Also, shoppers are looking for complete nutritional information on tags and bags, Mr. Shuman said. That means it makes sense for retailers to offer a variety of packaging options in addition to bulk onions.

“Consumers prefer a variety of packaging options — the more variety the better — including bulk, smaller bag and larger bag offerings,” Mr. Shuman said. “If retail space is limited, it’s a good idea to display both the bulk and packaged product, even if only one package size is stocked. We recommend considering a two- or three-pound bag to accompany bulk product when shelf space is somewhat restricted.”

He continued, “We believe the best plan is offering a variety of bagged sweet onions in our multiple vertical bag sizes — two-, three-, four -and five- pound packages — along with our bulk product and then adjusting through customer response and demographics. The use of additional shelf space or secondary displays is the best way to promote the produce. We have an ample supply of promotable product during the winter that allows for multi-staged merchandising with bagged and bulk product to assemble larger and supplemental displays.”