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Potatoes USA continues focus on rebranding effort

About a year ago the moniker “Potatoes USA” was adopted by the National Potato Promotion Board to reflect a change in strategy and approach for the organization.

Chief Marketing Officer John Toaspern recently updated The Produce News on that effort noting that the rebranding plan was more than just a change in the public name of the group, which represents more than 2,500 potato farms across the country. He said with the addition of a new chief executive officer (Blair Richardson) several years ago, the promotion board broadened its mission beyond reaching consumers “to lead the industry in all areas. We have made changes in all of our programs to be more a thought leader and more proactive.”HiRes-Potatoes-Inspiration-Book-NYC jpegRBGHR

For many years, the U.S. Potato Board, as it was typically referred to, focused on fresh potatoes. Toaspern said the funding, which comes from growers, has always been based on production and included all consumer uses of potatoes including fresh, frozen, dehydrated, processed and foodservice, but most of the programs were fresh-oriented. The basic theory was that fresh sales was an area that created an opportunity that could increase potato promotions and thus impact sales directly. Without diminishing the fresh effort, Toaspern said the new mission takes into account all uses of potatoes with the continued goal of increasing consumption through a variety of ways.

One of the key elements being emphasized is to break down myths about the nutritional content of potatoes.

While there is concern that per capita consumption of potatoes has declined over the years, Potatoes USA does not necessarily embrace that viewpoint. Toaspern said if you divide the population by the number of potatoes of potatoes produced in the United States, it does point to a decline in the pounds produced and purchased per capita. But he said consumption numbers may not have declined. He argues that the act of processing — where a majority of potatoes are utilized — has become much more efficient over the years. Where it once took two pounds of raw potatoes to create one pound of fries, frozen or dehydrated product that ratio has now fallen to 1.5 pounds of raw potatoes to one pound of finished product. Processors are basically using 25 percent less potatoes for the same amount of finished product.

And he said consumers are also more efficient. “The trash can was always a big customer,” Toaspern quipped.

Shrink has also decreased at retail as handling has improved dramatically over the years and basic merchandising concepts have evolved such as minimizing the amount of time fresh potatoes are exposed to artificial light on display racks.

Potatoes USA is attacking the nutrition perception, which Toaspern called the number one challenge. The group’s literature reminds consumers that potatoes are not fattening and that elite athletes often use potatoes as an excellent source of carbohydrates in their training. “Potatoes equal performance,” Toaspern said is a message that Potatoes USA is touting, as it tries to get the weekend 5K runner to imitate what the hard-core elite athletes are consuming.

Not far behind are efforts to stimulate innovation in potato use at home and in restaurants. The produce department has seen an explosion in new items gaining popularity as the potential uses expand. One need only look at cauliflower and innovations related to using that vegetable as a potato substitute in in its mashed form and as a steak substitute when it is sliced and grilled. Potatoes USA is targeting “food enthusiasts” encouraging them to find new uses for the potato. The group believes it has an excellent opportunity in working with chefs, who are always looking for menu uniqueness.

Ross Johnson, global marketing manager for Potatoes USA, focuses on retail promotions and said that area is still very important to the U.S. potato industry. “Potatoes are the number one preferred vegetable (by consumers) and they do have the highest household penetration of any fruit or vegetable at 88 percent,” he said. “Sixty million pounds of potatoes are sold at retail every week.”

Johnson said potatoes are a huge driver of sales at retail as they stimulate the purchase of other items. He said if potatoes are in the basket, the typical consumer has an average ring of $83.14 in his or her basket. If the basket does not include a potato product, the ring averages only $41.22. The Potatoes USA representatives said it behooves retailers to encourage that potato buy by promoting potatoes or giving them a more prominent spot at retail. “Move then up to the front of the department and get them in the basket sooner.”

As with several other produce department items, the buzz about fresh potatoes typically revolves around specialty items such as fingerlings or baby potatoes while sales are still dominated by the standard packs.