Tennessee Pride goes 'whole hog' with Opry promotion

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khughes@starhq.com

   Long before there were DVD's and wide-screen televisions, families used to sit around on Saturday nights with their ears tuned to sounds of Brother Dave Macon, Roy Acuff, Loretta Lynn and many others as they stepped up to the microphone at the Grand Ole Opry.
   The Opry became a musical tradition and many of its musicians were household names, including Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, who went on to become "the" bluegrass band of their day due to their Martha White Flour segment at the Opry. Ambassadors for the Opry sponsor, Flatt & Scruggs sold a wide audience on the virtues of cathead biscuits made from Martha White.
   Now, there's a new kid on the block: Odom's Tennessee Pride. The company has been cranking out "Real Country" sausage from its secret recipe in Madison, Tenn., for 59 years.
   The third-generation family owned business has a product they're proud of, and they've embarked on a new venture with Pine Mountain Railroad, a Pigeon Forge-area bluegrass band, to spread the word.
   It's been nearly 50 years since the Louvin Brothers, Oscar and Lonzo, first published and performed the theme song for Tennessee Pride. Now, Pine Mountain Railroad has included a 2-1/2 minute "Tennessee Pride" song on their latest compact disc -- a song destined to become either the opening or closing number of today's Saturday night Opry sessions.
   It seems a natural progression: from biscuits to sausage. And should the Tennessee Pride/Pine Mountain appetizer do as well as the Martha White/Flatt & Scruggs combo, promoters will be swimming in gravy.
   Jeff Williams, director of marketing for Odom's Tennessee Pride, said the theme song, the company's "Little Farmboy" mascot and his familiar phrase, "Take home a package of Tennessee Pride" is as unique and distinctive as the flavor of Tennessee Pride Sausage itself.
   The idea for the bluegrass/sausage promotion came about before the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" hit the theaters and "Man of Constant Sorrow" rocked the music charts. However, the huge success of both and the resulting "explosion in popularity of bluegrass music" couldn't have been better, Williams said.
   "The timing was perfect. For a long time there has been an affiliation with country foods and country or bluegrass music. We just felt like the time was right to capitalize on the popularity of that.
   "When you look at our target audience ... they're influenced by things that have emotional ties, and music is one of those things. In many cases, bluegrass acts played the same small towns and the same consumer lifestyles that we're trying to attract," Williams said.
   "We wanted another vehicle to raise our brand awareness, and part of our strategy with Pine Mountain as our musical ambassadors, is to increase that brand awareness wherever they go," he said. A larger-than-life "Little Farmboy" mascot, who resembles Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer with a fishing pole thrown over his shoulder, also travels around the country, doing personal appearances, distributing coupons and free product samples.
   "Whenever possible, we tie a Farmboy appearance in with Pine Mountain Railroad performances," Williams said.
   As part of its promotional campaign, last Sunday the company dropped 26 million coupons in newspapers all over the country, touting consumers to try the All-American Burger.
   "Talk about giving a hamburger some extra 'ummph' ... you put a little hot sausage in there, put it on the grill, and it's much more moist and flavorful than any hamburger you've had. It will knock your socks off," Williams said.
   In early August, another 52 million coupons will be dropped as part of a back-to-school theme focused on children and ready-to-eat sausage and biscuit products.
   The company recently introduced two new sausage biscuit items and is preparing to release more new items in the future. However, turkey sausage, a virtual "pig in a poke," is not in the picture.
   "We've always prided ourselves on being a 'whole hog' sausage ... and poultry just doesn't fit into that. It's a great alternative for some people that want fewer calories and less fat intake, but it's not something that's in our plans," Williams said.
   "Real Country" is something the founder's grandson "has always tried to keep in the forefront of our company's image," Williams said. "It's something the company has always prided itself on. It's our trademark and it's our heritage.
   "This whole sponsorship thing is really part of a grassroots campaign with emphasis on lifestyles that are really consistent with the Tennessee Pride brand. We know our consumers like bluegrass music as much as they like country sausage," he said.