Retail promotion directors expand roles during Covid
Retail promotion directors for the Idaho Potato Commission are used to being road warriors. They’re also used to doing whatever it takes to get retailers what they need. So when much of the country abruptly shut down for Covid last spring, the IPC promotion directors were fully prepared to switch gears, working from home to ensure retailers could continue to provide Idaho potatoes to their customers.
And thanks to IPC’s immediate actions in early March, the potatoes kept moving, said IPC president and CEO Frank Muir.
“When the government was shutting down restaurants in March, we knew that it would impact about 60 percent of our Idaho potato business,” said Muir. “Meanwhile, potatoes were flying off the shelves at retail. So our No. 1 objective was to start shifting potatoes to retail. We had to get creative.”
To address both foodservice oversupply and retail undersupply issues, IPC worked with shippers and retailers to have foodservice cartons of large-size restaurant spuds shipped directly to the retail stores.
“IPC immediately put together a program of offering our 8-pound bag Idaho russets in bin quantities,” said Mike Krage, retail promotion director-Northeast/Midwest.
Retailers could put the 50-pound cartons directly on top of the shelves, then take off the lid for an instant display. In addition, the bins required less labor since they didn’t have to be refilled as often as shelves would be. They also allowed retailers to reallocate some of their merchandising space from bags to bulk, since bags were in short supply at the time.
“We aligned with the retailers and showed them where they could go for product,” said Kent Beesley, retail promotion director/West. “We spent a lot of time and resources making sure they could get what they wanted.”
IPC also created a one-page sheet for retailers with tips on how to display the cartons, followed by a series of flyers on merchandising best practices during the pandemic, such as waterfalling and secondary displays.
“About once every three weeks, we’d send out a one-sheet with recommendations on how to keep up with the strong demand for potatoes,” said Beesley, who added that IPC plans to make the flyers an ongoing program.
A 10-week recipe idea program that ran from April through June enabled retailers to offer their shoppers fresh inspiration for preparing Idaho potatoes, said Krage. “After about eight weeks, consumers were looking for another way to cook potatoes beyond baked and mashed,” he said. “We put together a program of high-resolution pictures that retailers could put into their circulars. Many of the marketing departments got very involved in recipe sharing with their customers, and I know they got a lot of great feedback from their customers.”
Zooming into action
Although the retail promotion directors are looking forward to the day when they can once again travel regularly to meet with retailers in person, they’ve found some distinct advantages to online meetings.
“The commission has had pretty seamless communication with all of our retailers in supplying them with data through the use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Webex,” said Krage. “This has really assisted us greatly in getting our deliverables to retailers quicker than we would have normally. And we’ve found that the retailers are all up to speed on communication technology.”
Beesley concurred, saying, “Meeting with retailers by Zoom has been really good. They see that we’re the real deal for helping them with the category.”
Future spud supplies
IPC is working to ensure that retailers will be able to meet the projected ongoing boost in demand for potatoes, said Seth Pemsler, IPC vice president-retail/international.
“The Idaho potato industry has made structural changes to help meet possible demand,” he said. “Many of our shippers have increased their bagging capacity, so Idaho is now much better prepared. We also just finished a great harvest and will have consistent volume available as it has been in the past. So we’re very well-positioned for retail.”