Onions, ogres and a museum

Finance major spreads the word about Georgia’s state vegetable

Onions, ogres and a museum

Photo by: PETER FREY

After spending a few years working for television news stations in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, Wendy Brannen (BBA ’94) was ready to come home.

“I quit my job for Georgia football,” jokes Brannen. “I had been away from Georgia for several years, and I was a little homesick.”

Who would have known her desire to come home would lead to a job as the executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee?

Growing up in Statesboro, Brannen, like many South Georgians, had a sense of pride for the sweet onions grown exclusively in and around Vidalia and was accustomed to taking them as gifts to friends and neighbors.

“I felt like I’d already been doing this job,” Brannen says. “You have to believe in something if you’re going to sell it.”

Brannen oversees marketing for Vidalia onions, promoting them nationally through press releases, in-store promotions, broadcast media appearances, ads and tradeshows.

Last year she was in charge of a successful promotion featured on ABC World News that paired Vidalia onions with Shrek, the animated green ogre who stars in a series of children’s movies. In the first movie, Shrek compares himself to an onion.

“Onions have layers,” Shrek tells Donkey to explain his difficult personality. “Ogres have layers.”

Since the beginning of the Vidalia onion season in May coincided with the opening of “Shrek Forever After,” the Vidalia Onion Committee partnered with DreamWorks Animation to create the “Ogres and Onions” campaign. The campaign was targeted to children to encourage them to eat the healthy, sweet vegetables.

Shortly after moving to the “Sweet Onion City” in 2006, Brannen was asked to be on a local agribusiness committee, which started a subcommittee dedicated to creating a museum for Vidalia onions.

The city of Vidalia had wanted a nice facility for tourists to learn more about Georgia’s state vegetable for some time. Brannen’s subcommittee hired a museum consultant and began gathering artifacts and memorabilia such as farm equipment and newspaper articles.

“Our goal was to build something the area and farmers could be proud of and others would enjoy,” she says.

The museum opened on April 29 in the same building as the Vidalia Onion Committee, the Vidalia Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and the Vidalia Onion Business Council.

“This was a fascinating project, and it has been exciting to unearth all there is about Vidalia onions,” Brannen says.

Her favorite exhibit in the museum is the pop culture section that features the different media in which the Vidalia onion has appeared, including the television shows “Cash Cab,” “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and “Jeopardy.” Vidalia onions were also used as a murder clue on “CSI Miami.”

Brannen says the biggest accomplishment in creating the museum is that the city now has a historical archive for Vidalia onions and the Vidalia community that educates and entertains visitors.

“When people leave here, we want them to be a little more excited about Vidalia onions than they were before they came to the museum.”

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Learn more about Vidalia onions at http://www.vidaliaonion.org