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John Shuman has been one of the most creative and relentless marketers in the produce world for years. That’s one of the reasons he’s become likely the most successful sweet onion grower-shipper in the industry as well. Quality and consistency are paramount in that success, but the Shuman name is literally everywhere in trade marketing and the “RealSweet” label is constantly in front of consumers through a series of marketing and social media campaigns that range from silly to sublime, from hilarious cooking videos to recipes and a focus on family.

John Shuman shows off Vidalia’s finest

One of the most successful Shuman campaigns ever – “How to Speak Southern” — launched a couple of years ago with the premise that people don’t always understand Southern accents. There are, for instance, a half-dozen different pronunciations of Vidalia, the onion that’s key to Shuman’s success.

Playing on that, the “How to Speak Southern” campaign poked gently self-deprecating fun at Southern accents, turning phrases like “knee-high to a grasshopper” (something you might say to a young person who’s grown a lot since the last time you saw them) and “catawumpus” (basically means “askew) into tropes that everyone can laugh at regardless of origin. The first campaign was such a success that Shuman brought it back for another round this spring in a promotion that officially ends June 30. Already, thousands and thousands of people have taken the quiz online for entertainment and an opportunity to win weekly prizes and a grand prize Big Green Egg grill.

We sat down with Shuman for a quick Q&A on the campaign’s origins and success:

SOUTHEAST PRODUCE WEEKLY — What sparked the original idea for the ‘How to Speak Southern’ campaign?

JOHN  SHUMAN — “How to Speak Southern” began as a fun way to share the story behind Shuman Produce’s RealSweet® Vidalia® onions including the families and region that make this item so unique. When your heart and soul is in a product as popular as a “Vie-day-yuh” onion, it’s fun to create new ways to continue the excitement around this seasonal treasure. As we all know, Vidalia is pronounced in a variety of ways and we wanted to have a little fun with those trademark sayings that make the South so unique. These ideas lead to the creation of a dedicated campaign website and URL that hosted instructional videos on how to properly pronounce “Southern” words and an entertaining quiz on identifying proper “Southernisms”. Visitors to the website were also able to enter for the weekly giveaways and the grand prize – a Big Green Egg grill.

Another unique RealSweet marketing angle

SPWHow did the first round go?

SHUMAN — The first campaign in 2015 was a tremendous success. The 10-week initiative yielded over 25,000 quiz entries, with 26% of quiz takers opting-in for further communication about our business and products. Shuman Produce also increased its social media following throughout the campaign.

SPWWhat led to the decision to bring it back?

SHUMAN — With such great success and engagement in 2015, the decision was very easy to create the 2.0 version of “How to Speak Southern” in 2017. This year’s campaign has varied slightly in that we have integrated some new aspects into the website. This year we included seasonal recipes that feature RealSweet® Vidalia® onions along with some of our favorite facts about the Vidalia onion industry. The website also features a live social media thread, and of course, highlights the “Can You Speak Southern” quiz.

SPW — What impact has the second round had?

SHUMAN — With effective social media advertising and email marketing, we have seen greater growth in our social media audience – over 20% increase and more importantly our opt-in rate has nearly tripled to 70%. One week remains for this year’s installment and we expect to see even more quiz entries as we push to the end of June. This year, we continued the weekly giveaways and will once again award the grand prize of a Big Green Egg grill in July. We feel that the grilling tie-in plays perfectly with the time of year and the many ways to prepare RealSweet® Vidalia® onions on the grill.

SPW — How important is diversified, creative marketing for a produce company trying to get an edge in the market today?

A RealSweet retail marketing bin

SHUMAN — As a grower and shipper, we find it important to create marketing campaigns that target not only the produce trade, but also the consumers shopping in their local grocery store. Consumers are interested in learning about the locale of their food and what makes it special. The “How to Speak Southern” campaign engages these consumers in a fun and educational way to maximize brand awareness. By creating a marketing campaign that coincides with the seasonality of Vidalia onions, we can optimize the excitement among consumers.

In addition to the consumer focus, we also created marketing elements at the retail level to raise awareness and drive consumption of “RealSweet” Vidalia onions and highlight the Vidalia onion industry. Our peak season on-pack coupon program features information about the promotion, and point of sale shelf cards were available for our retail partners to use throughout the campaign period to drive incremental sales for our retail partners. This was a fun way to bring in additional items when Vidalias are at peak seasons and retailers are running promotions.

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