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Shuman Produce in Reidsville, GA, is riding a hot streak into the New York Produce Show. Already a leading player in the sweet onion market and one of the nation’s top producers of Vidalia onions, Shuman claimed the title of Peruvian onion import leader this season.

Shuman-4John Shuman with Heidi McIntyre of Produce for Kids, a charitable foundation Mr. Shuman launched a decade ago, at PMA’s Fresh Summit in October. (Photo by Chip Carter)“Shuman Produce is currently the leading importer of Peruvian sweet onions into the United States,” said owner John Shuman. “We have planned and planted for 1.1 million 40-pound case equivalents of Peruvian sweet onions to be imported this season, and we’re hopeful that we’ll get close to that number.”

While overall yields from the Peruvian crop were down, Shuman increased acreage enough to increase imports by almost a third this season.

“The weather has played a part in this year’s crop with a mild winter and a hot summer bringing the overall crop yields down,” Mr. Shuman said. “While our crop of Peruvian sweet onions has been affected, we planned and planted for an overall increase for the 2012-13 season and our imports are actually up by 30 percent this season thanks to that planning. We currently have promotable supplies of colossals, jumbos and mediums, but the crop is trending to a smaller profile. The crop appearance and quality out of Peru is excellent this season, with some of the best imports we have ever seen.”

Mr. Shuman knows that one in every three dollars spent on onions is spent on sweet onions. He also knows that while the Vidalia onion is king of the mountain, consumers can and do enjoy other sweet onions — as long as they have the same familiar shape, aroma and taste profile as Vidalias.

That makes its Peruvian product a perfect fit for its year-round “RealSweet” brand program, he said.

“Consumer research has shown that the flat, round shape of the onion and its yellow skin color communicate the sweet and mild flavor of the product. Sweet onions are a kitchen staple for consumers, and the ability to provide an instantly recognizable product all year long is a definite advantage for retailers,” Mr. Shuman said. “Peruvian onions may have competitors, but are without equal during their availability. One of the biggest obstacles currently facing the sweet onion category is the labeling of domestic Grano variety cooking onions as sweet onions to capture a premium price at retail — especially during the fall and winter months. These varieties do not share the same sweet and mild flavor profile or the familiar flat, Granex shape consumers recognize from Peruvian sweet onions.”

Ever socially conscious, Shuman always plans a variety of cause-based marketing programs for each season and this fall is no different.

“We want to make a difference in the local communities of our customers and increase the ring at the register,” Mr. Shuman said.

Shuman is also the founding sponsor of Produce for Kids, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. This year’s fall campaign, entitled “Healthy Schools, Healthy Minds,” will benefit health and wellness classroom projects in the communities where participating retailers operate through a partnership with DonorsChoose.org. The foundation also recently launched a year-round digital program that represents PFK’s first-ever 12-month effort.