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Vidalia Onion Committee taps former assistant for top spot

NEW ORLEANS -- Susan Waters, executive assistant to the Vidalia Onion Committee since 2009, has been named the organization's new executive director after a six-month search.

Waters replaces Wendy Brannen, who held the post for eight years before departing to become director of consumer health and public relations for the U.S. Apple Association earlier this year.

The decision was made several days ago but, due to terms of the SusanSusan Waterscommittee's U.S. Department of Agriculture marketing order, it could not be announced without that agency's approval. With the government shutdown, news of Waters' promotion could not be released until the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit convention, here.

Waters is a Vidalia native with ties to the industry going back to childhood. She spent a decade working with Farm Credit (now AgSouth) and another 16 years with the Georgia Board of Pardons & Paroles.

"It's like a homecoming of sorts," Waters said Oct. 23. "I actually knew a lot of the growers and their families when I was working for AgSouth. Some of our growers I graduated from high school with."

Not only does Waters know the Vidalia onion committee, she has also become an increasingly familiar face throughout the industry, appearing at tradeshows and working side-by-side with Brannen on a string of highly successful marketing campaigns that have included pairings with Hollywood blockbusters and Nashville music stars.

"Susan is a sweet and sincere person who truly cares about the industry," Brannen said. "That will help her do well in continuing with the VOC in this new role. I am happy to see her grow."

Waters is grateful for the opportunity and excited about her expanded role with the committee.

"I enjoy what I do and I enjoy working with the farmers, they're just a good group of people," she said. "It's a good situation."

If Waters had any doubts about the position, they were erased as she has performed the duties of the office over the last six months on her own.

"I didn't have time to think about it -- I just did it," Waters laughed. "I have had help -- the committee members have all pitched in and been just great. They've offered to come answer phones, file, anything I need."

Waters' first major official challenge was preparing to represent the committee at PMA on short notice.

"I had a week-and-a-half to really prepare for PMA, it was quick, it was hard, but we made it through it and we're doing pretty good," Waters said. "I'm so fortunate to already know familiar faces -- when I was at PMA it wasn't like being thrown into a group of total strangers."

While the focus for this year's Vidalia marketing campaign is still taking shape, Waters suggests it will focus on the history and legacy of the world's most famous onion.

"One thing we all want to do is make sure the public and especially the younger demographic are educated about what the Vidalia name was built on," she said. "We want to get back to our roots and educate people even more about what exactly a Vidalia is. There was a visitor in our museum the other day who didn't realize Vidalias are only grown in Georgia. Education is always going to be key to our success. There is always a new crop of consumers coming along and we want to make sure we reach them."