The Consumer's Perfect Storm

Nutritious, convenient and on-a-budget

Published in the April 2009 Issue Published online: Apr 30, 2009 Meredith Myers, USPB Public Relations Manager
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I'm in an interesting position, because not only do I publicize potatoes to the core of our target market-"Linda," or women 25-54 years old with kids at home-I am "Linda." And just like so many Linda's out there, my food budget has gotten leaner and leaner, and I'm changing many of my habits to make each dollar go a littler further.

Despite the fact I need to provide my family "nutrition on a budget," we still have a lot going on. I still work 40 hours per week, the boys still have homework and we continue to stay involved in sports and outside activities. What this means is, just like six months to a year ago, I continue to be challenged with fitting everything I want into my day, including getting a healthy meal on the table each night...I just have less money to do it. This time-strapped reality that once drove me to pick up dinner at a restaurant now has me looking for value items that I can make quickly as well as strategies to stretch the full meals I make-can you say "creative" leftovers?

The United States Potato Board (USPB) recently received the 2008 Q4 sales data from our contracted data supplier. Here are the results across sectors: Chips -4.6 percent, Fresh -3.5 percent, Frozen -1.4 percent, Dehy +11.6 percent

So, after seeing that Q4 potato sales were down from the same time a year ago, we asked the question, "If potato sales are down, then what's up?" The results reveal interesting trends that reflect I am not alone in my decision process:

According to Nielsen data, Q4 2008 sales are down across the total potato category. However, every category in supermarket stores has seen losses (does not include Wal-Mart or Sam's Club data). In these tough economic times, consumers are buying less overall and making value purchases when they do.

Despite overall decreased sales, there are products that have increased sales. On the dry grocery list, instant mashed potatoes rank fourth, as their sales are up 11.6 percent. Other top performers were dry pizza mixes, pasta and rice. Common threads these product share are that they are convenient staples, healthy and available at a value price. They are also ingredients used to prepare fuller meals, which reflects an increase in cooking at home.

There was no single-item winner consumers have shifted to from potatoes, which indicates there is no new substitute for potatoes emerging and beginning to challenge our business in new ways.

Personally, I do buy a lot of potatoes, not just because I have access to a couple hundred recipes, but because I understand their nutritional value, my kids love them, AND (here's the kicker) I cook. But let's face it, "Linda" does not cook like Mom used to. It's a different time, and "Linda," regardless of her financial situation, still wants it all from the food she serves her family-convenient and healthy at a value price.

The USPB developed an integrated program to remind "Linda" potatoes are, in addition to being "Goodness Unearthed" nutritionally, also one of the best values, pound for pound, in the produce department. A collection of meal recipes with approximate cost per serving information was developed along with money-saving ideas where consumers could find potatoes at the heart of each recipe. This information is being placed at retail and communicated through print, broadcast and online media. It's also a subject of great discussion on our blog. We're also educating consumers about time saving conveniences of cooking potatoes in the microwave-mashed, baked and roasted potatoes in less than 10 minutes!

However, this work alone can't reverse a trend. New product innovation is needed to provide consumers with options that satisfy their needs. Especially during this current economic downturn, we see consumers are turning to lower-priced/value-oriented convenience products.that are still nutritious. This reinforces the need by the industry to address the convenience aspect of fresh potatoes with new products that meet that demand. Innovation is key to our long-term success.