Maximize total store growth with spud appeal
All vegetables are not created equal when it comes to driving sales beyond the bounds of the produce department.
“Putting a potato in your shoppers’ cart encourages their creativity. They will be shopping the entire store for what they can do with those potatoes,” said Ross Johnson, director of category management for the Idaho Potato Commission. “It’s the most versatile vegetable in produce. No one eats a potato raw, so the consumer needs to find something to make with his or her potato purchase.”
This customer creativity pays off on the bottom line for retailers: When fresh potatoes are in the basket, the average basket size is almost twice as valuable. In 2020, consumers with fresh potatoes in their carts had an average basket size of $91.79, compared with $47.54 for a basket without fresh potatoes, according to data from IRI and Kantar Insights Consulting.
“Retailers tend to hide the potato category, because they know it’s a staple item,” said Johnson. “But we encourage them to put potatoes in a shopper’s path because potatoes ignite a customer’s senses, and data has proven potatoes are the key to building entire shopping carts. Potatoes are tried and true for a reason — the numbers don’t lie.”
More than 2 million new potato customers put spuds in their shopping carts in 2020, according to IPC, with 10-pound bags of russets seeing a 30 percent sales increase.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “suddenly retailers were reminded how important the category was,” Johnson said. “One of the first items that was out of stock, in fact, was potatoes. The pandemic has driven consumers back into the kitchen and taught them how much fun it can be to spend time cooking, and it really has given them the confidence that they can cook at home.”
Cross merchandising ingredients for homemade meals can push potato buyers into other store aisles as they shop for the items most likely to show up in baskets with fresh spuds: shelf-stable broth, dry rice, shelf-stable flours, tomatoes, plant-based spreads, frozen vegetables, shelf-stable beans and granulated sugar, according to 2020 data from Potatoes USA and Kantar Insights Consulting.
Encouraging potato consumers to stock up throughout the store can sometimes be tricky, though, depending on the marketplace in which a retailer competes. “That’s where IPC resources can help,” said Johnson.
“Category managers are struggling right now with how to set potato category items in a way to encourage cross-shopping,” he said. “We have data that will show them exactly how to do that, depending on where they are in the country. Our retail directors go in as true consultants and show them where the opportunity is for market-specific solutions.”
Retailers tend to focus their advertising on specific items, but data has shown that gourmet potatoes (24-ounce pack size) are not cannibalistic to russet sales. “Utilizing our insights, retailers have been able to capture additional dollar growth in the category without sacrificing margin on some of their higher-priced items,” said Johnson. The feedback that the IPC promotion directors receive has also elevated their importance as category advisors in the industry.
A secondary potato display — in the produce department or in other areas of the store, such as meat/seafood — is an especially effective tactic for boosting total store growth. “We encourage retailers to put up secondary displays,” Johnson said. “IPC has proven that secondary displays drive an incremental 22 percent sales dollar growth versus comparable stores.”