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Vidalia onions add tang, country twang to promotional contests

by Lora Abcarian | December 02, 2011
The Vidalia Onion Committee’s ‘American Favorites: Sweet Vidalias & Country Music’ promotion featured a retail display contest. The winner was Charles Hanks, a Harvey’s store manager in Tallahassee, FL. He and his staff built a massive Grand Ole Opry stage in their produce department featuring Vidalia onions. (Photo courtesy of the Vidalia Onion Committee)

It has been a season of innovative and highly effective — if not “over the top” — promotions for the Vidalia Onion Committee. “We try to walk out a little bit past our comfort zone,” Executive Director Wendy Brannen told The Produce News Nov. 29.

Two special promotions paid off beyond the committee’s wildest expectations. With an initial submission this past May, the committee’s jingle contest garnered more than 60 jingles by season’s end. Ms. Brannen said that 136,000 people visited the Vidalia onion web site to cast their votes.

“It was a lot of fun for the consumers,” Ms. Brannen said. “We had a lot of diversity. We had everything from folk music to bluegrass to rap. It ran the entire gamut of the music genre. If you’re having a bad day, go to the [] web site and listen to the jingles. You’ll have a ball.”

A panel composed of Vidalia onion marketers and representatives from Universal Music Group judged the contest. Marc Wildman of Akron, OH, claimed top honors.

The contest piqued the interest of Vidalia lovers across the board. “We tried to appeal to diverse audiences and younger audiences,” Ms. Brannen said. The jingles, which Ms. Brannen laughingly characterized as “over the top,” were so creative that the committee hopes to use them on in-store radio in the near future.

Despite the fact that the 2012 Vidalia marketing onion season is months away, Ms. Brannen is already hearing rumors that tunesmiths are getting their creative juices flowing for the next round of competition.

Equally successful was the committee’s American Favorites: Sweet Vidalias & Country Music promotion. Over 100 entries from throughout the country were submitted for consideration for the retail display contest. Ms. Brannen said that three entries really stood out. The winner of the contest was Charles Hanks, a Harvey’s store manager in Tallahassee, FL. Mr. Hanks and his staff built a massive Grand Ole Opry stage in the produce department complete with guitars and dancing Vidalia onions. Mr. Hanks and his son handled freehand component design and construction.

Ms. Brannen said she was dumbstruck by the size of the winning display, which she described as nearly as wide as the front of her house. Inside the produce department, the display attracted so much attention it was difficult for Mr. Hanks to photograph the entry. In addition to the stage, two secondary displays inside the store in different locations cross-promoted Vidalia onions.

Looking at all the entries, Ms. Brannen said, “The sheer creativity alone of those displays was remarkable.” If the contest was hot in 2011, it will positively sizzle in 2012. Retail stores within chains will have a chance to engage in some friendly competition. “We’ll give them the opportunity to run with it,” she laughed.

Free country music downloads were offered during the promotion. “In 2012, we will do more song downloads,” she added.

Ms. Brannen was asked how the committee has been able to hit upon such successful promotions. “It really started in the last couple of years,” she replied. She said that the marketing advisory subcommittee is composed of Vidalia onion packers. “That has helped us tap into the industry and its sales,” she continued. “With us, seasonality is a big deal. We have a lot of good ideas, but they must work with seasonality. It’s finding something that makes sense with the product.”

The committee began testing social networking waters approximately three years ago. “We stuck a toe in,” Ms. Brannen said. “We wanted to be sure programs like Facebook and Twitter are here to stay.”

With no doubt about the limitless possibilities of social networking, Ms. Brannen said the committee is moving ahead full bore. “We’ve got the groundwork laid. Now we will fine-tune these programs,” she said. “We will build out content of pages, especially Facebook.” The committee may do some couponing in 2012 and expects to build a fan page at the site.

“We have a lot of followers, and we’ll keep them engaged,” she added.