The wave of interest in Vidalia onions generated by a marketing tie-in with “Shrek: Forever After” movie campaign is so great that shippers expect to run out of the sweet onions early this season.

By early July, supplies of Shrek-themed bags and bins that tie the industry in with the animated movie were short and shippers said they expect the storage deal to run out of product by the end of July, a month ahead of the usual late August and early September end.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 29 reported shippers had moved 3.6 million 40-pound equivalent cartons, up 7% (223,680 cartons) from the 3.1 million equivalent cartons the industry shipped as of late June last year.

Last season, the industry shipped a total of 4.3 million boxes.

John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga., credits the Shrek campaign for spreading the Vidalia name nationally and providing packers an incremental sales bump.

An abundance of medium-sized onions, which fill most of the bags, provided hot buying opportunities, he said.

“The larger-sized onions will be very limited in volume across the industry in July, as we will ship mostly mediums,” Shuman said June 30.  “We saw an increase in pull. The industry may be tracking 7% above last year to date, but it will quickly give that increase back in July when we have limited volume. A lot of guys did not fill up their storages this summer.”

Because he foresaw a possible shorter Vidalia crop, Shuman said his growing operation decided to plant some early acreage to bring planned arrivals to the U.S. in early August.

Brian Stanley, sales manager of Stanley Farms, Vidalia, Ga., said sales to date have increased 25%-30% over normal years.

“I know I have never had as many people calling on a particular package as they have with this Shrek deal,” he said. “These Shrek packages seemed to move faster with that medium-sized onion. It also helps there was a whole national onion shortage. It has been fun to have the sales as brisk as they were.”

Shrek promo spurs sweet demand for Vidalias

Courtesy Vidalia Onion Committee

Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Vidalia, Ga.-based Vidalia Onion Committee, films an interview with "ABC World News Tonight" June 29 at a Vidalia packinghouse.

Shrek promo spurs sweet demand for Vidalias

Though Stanley said he expects some larger storage capacity packing operations to run later in August, he said the industry would not likely make it to Labor Day (Sept. 6) with Vidalias.

Some packers, Stanley said, may finish by July 15.

On July 2, the USDA reported 40-pound cartons of yellow sweet U.S. No. 1 jumbos from Vidalia were $24-$26, with mediums at $18-$22. Containers of organic mediums in 12 3-pound mesh sacks were $34.

Last year in early July, the USDA reported jumbos selling for $20-22 with mediums at $18-20.

Declining storage supplies are keeping prices high and prices normally strengthen when the onions move into storage, Shuman said.

Media darlings

A June 29 "ABC World News Tonight" report focused on the Vidalia onion promotion and how children are lobbying their parents to buy the onions. The day before that report, a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal included anecdotes of children clamoring for the Shrek onions.

The coverage of the wildly successful promotion comes shortly after the national media reported on a Yale University study that concluded cartoon characters significantly affect children’s consumption of junk food. When applied to healthy foods, however, the characters had less of an effect on consumption, according to the study.

Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, Vidalia, said the produce industry for the last couple of years has been taking advantage of an advertising tactic that other industries have been using for years.

“When I have parents, daycare workers and all of these people who have kids or work with kids e-mailing me and telling me their kids are demanding that I purchase these Vidalia onions with Shrek on them, and when we have parents quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying they’re suddenly buying Vidalia onions like they’re buying milk, that’s the proof (that Shrek works),” she said. “This can positively influence children, particularly now when there’s such an emphasis on childhood obesity.”

Brannen said the industry has received strong consumer reaction and retailer support.