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In it for the long haul...

The Fresh Solutions Network has tapped into the secret ingredient for growth in the potato category — convenience.

By delivering what consumers want most, the San Francisco-based, North American network of potato and onion farmers has achieved year-over-year growth, despite the static to declining sales that have engulfed the fresh potato category for the last decade.

New-8-Item-Steamables-Family-Shot “At Fresh Solutions, we have honed in on the convenience-minded consumer for a long time,” said Kathleen Triou, president and chief executive officer of the network. “This is how we grew our Side Delights brand. We created something for the consumer who loves potatoes and eats them often at restaurants but finds they are too much work at home.”

The brand is a leader in the value-added category with something for every consumer, from small bags of fresh and fresh-cut potatoes to the Steamables line of ready-to-cook microwavable options to the Flavorables and Gourmet kits.

“We have options for consumers looking for a lower price point and prefer their own seasoning, and also those who want to try a bold, new flavor combination outside their spice rack,” noted Triou.

Convenience for the sake of convenience is not enough. Culinary trends in the dining landscape and those showcased on The Food Network have broadened the spectrum for shoppers, who as a result, want more from retail. Offering the flavors that most excite consumers is one way that Fresh Solutions stays ahead of the curve.

The team focuses on flavor combinations and culinary influences at their peak. Some are as simple as the recently debuted Sea Salt, Cracked Pepper and Parsley, while others maintain deeper, more complex flavors like Chimichurri, Smokin’ Tomato, and the also new, Smokey BBQ. “These are not standard flavors; they are all foodservice-driven. We take a lot of cues from foodservice and the snacking world,” Triou added.

The onslaught of value-added products in the market does create new obstacles for retailers who only have so much shelf space in their stores.

According to Triou, the retailers’ ability to understand their consumers and merchandise accordingly is both a science and an art. “We can come up with fantastic value-added products, but if a particular store has to hit a specific value price point, convenience items will have less of a priority than 5- and 10-pound bags of potatoes. In other words, retailers really have to know their consumer set,” she added.

Millennials and city dwellers typically get a lot of the credit for the popularity of value-added options across the grocery landscape, but they aren’t the only ones buying it. Fresh Solutions sees more and more families stocking up on their Steamables brand of microwavable potatoes. “Having a family of four usually means you have less time in your day to cook. The 1.5-lb bag of Steamables only takes eight mins to cooks so you can feed your family when you have a ton of other things to do,” she added.

With the increasing popularity of restaurant-style dishes and recipe-delivery services, Fresh Solutions doesn’t expect the convenience approach to healthy cooking to slow down anytime soon. The growers in the network are laying the groundwork for continued growth in the value-added category.

They continue to make significant investments into automating and mechanizing their facilities, while continuing to explore new packaging technologies and materials as the category moves toward trays, bowls, and self-sealing units. As Triou summed it up, “We believe it is the right thing to do.”

Supporting each other is one of the biggest advantages of the private, coast-to-coast network of independent growers. The network’s regional coverage, from Washington state to Prince Edward Island and down to Florida, enables a 52-week supply, and their collaboration makes sure that they fulfill their contracts no matter what logistical crisis or weather misfortune may come their way.

“The growers bond together and help each other out,” said Triou. “They are continuously scrutinizing their own standards, scrutinizing each other to ensure their standards are kept as high as possible, and continuously investing in their own operational efficiencies and quality.”