Vidalia Onion Committee Executive Director Susan Waters announced her retirement effective immediately this week after four years at the helm of the organization that oversees promotion, marketing and research efforts for Georgia’s official state vegetable.
Vidalia Onion Business Council Director Bob Stafford has been named interim executive director while a national search begins for Waters’ replacement.
“I have enjoyed my time with the growers and the produce industry and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to serve,” Waters told SPW Wednesday. “I’ve made a lot of friends and I plan to remain in contact with y’all and continue to be involved in the industry in some capacity in the future. But now I’m going to spend time with my mother and my family and I’m going to be spending a lot of time at the lake and the beach.”
With Vidalia season nearing its midway point, Stafford emphasizes it will be “business as usual” for the committee.
“There will be no interruption – it’s going to be business as usual,” he told SPW Wednesday. “We might change a few things but we’re going to progress right along. We’ve got a marketing firm working with us, Porter Novelli and they’ve got their direction to go, so I’m just going to keep the office stuff, the normal stuff clicking and we’re going to go from there.”
Vidalia has enjoyed a banner season for the world-famous onion for the second year in a row.
“This season is coming along good, I’ll tell you, the quality has been excellent. I’ve never seen a better tasting crop. We’ve got better than 3 million Vidalia onions in storage and we’re going to sell them all — we’ve sold about that many already this season so it’s looking good.”
Waters assumed the VOC’s head position in 2013 after serving as executive assistant to then-director Wendy Brannen. During Brannen’s tenure, Vidalia enjoyed mass-market exposure through partnerships with Dreamworks Studios and Universal Music Group.
Waters capitalized on that appeal heading a series of “V is for Vidalia” campaigns and then this year’s “Only Vidalia” marketing campaign celebrating the onion’s 25th year under the administration of the State of Georgia, which holds the trademark to the Vidalia name. The 2017 marketing campaign focuses on the onion’s hand-grown, artisanal reputation – the onion had been grown in the Vidalia region for almost 50 years before breaking out nationally in the 1980s.
Stafford is a well-known name in Southern agriculture, with more than three decades of service at the state level in various ag arenas. He is a member of the Georgia Agriculture Vidalia Onion Advisory panel and was named to the Vidalia Onion Hall of Fame in 2009.
The Vidalia Onion Committee administers various aspects of the crop’s federal marketing order, which provides protection for the crop, which can only be grown in 13 southeast Georgia counties and parts of seven others.
In a press release 2017 Committee Chairman Troy Bland of Bland Farms LLC in Glennville, GA, said, “We are very grateful and appreciative for Susan’s leadership over the past four years. We are fortunate that Bob Stafford will be able to step in while we look for a new leader to handle the day-to-day operations of the committee.”