Playing Offense

USBP Turning Focus to Net Positives at Annual Meeting

Published in the May 2012 Issue Published online: May 09, 2012 Story and Photos by Tyler J. Baum
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2012-2013 USPB Executive CommitteeLast year's big news at the United States Potato Board Annual Meeting was that net negatives for potatoes had gone down to pre-Atkins Diet levels.

This year, the potato industry is on offense-and they're marching down the field.

USPB board members gathered for this year's Annual Meeting, held in an unseasonably warm Colorado Springs, Colo., at the Broadmoor March 14-16.

USPB CEO Tim O'Conner, after speaking of the importance of metrics to track the industry's progress, announced a new metric called "net positives."

"I'm tired of talking about net negatives," he says. "Let's talk about net positives."

In addition, the USPB changed its Consumer Attitude and Usage research to track Linda, the USPB's target audience, separately from consumers in general.

The new measures were first used last year, so there was nothing with which to compare them. This year's data, however, shows that Linda was more positive about potatoes in 2011 than the national average.

O'Conner announced that the net positive went up in 2012-for Linda, who is 2 percent more positive than she was last year, as well as for the national composite.

He attributes the rise in net positives to the collective work done by the USPB, Idaho and other state organizations and shippers and retailers using the Goodness Unearthed Nutrition messaging.

"I want to play offense," he says. "Defense is important, but let's play some offense-let's move the ball down the field."

Further, O'Conner warned board members not to pigeon-hole the committees-that Domestic Marketing is "fresh" and International Marketing is "frozen"-because that's not accurate. He also pointed out that the biggest problems we have in the industry are not sector-oriented-demand, obesity, low-carb diets, acrylamide and changing consumer lifestyles and meal preferences.

United Potato Growers of America CEO Jerry Wright reported on the 2012 crop outlook. He says it is anticipated the industry will ship one million cwt less than last year, but as of the annual meeting the industry was two million cwt ahead of schedule-meaning the "hockey stick" spike in profitability will come earlier.

Based on planting intentions for the 2012-2013 season, 19,000 more acres are anticipated to be planted in Washington and Oregon, and 10,000 more in Idaho.

"We fully expect next year's production will be up by no less than 25 million cwt in North America. That's a pretty strong dose of reality. That's the bad news. The good news is, process usage is up, demand is up and the need is there."

He added that, realistically, "We expect next year's fresh market to be 99.5 million cwt. That will be five million more cwt than we've got in fresh market this year." That does not take into account any spillover from processors.

He says that is part of the wild card for next year. "The real wild card now," Wright says, "is what Mother Nature does."

Wright points out that if Mother Nature gives us trend-line yields-which she hasn't the last two years-realistically, we're expected to go back to 2009 returns, which were two to three dollars below the cost of production.

In summation: "Proceed with caution."

National Potato Council Executive VP and CEO John Keeling says we had a great year, with the fixing of the Mexican trucking issue and putting potatoes back in school meals.

"Victory on the school meal deal shows us that if, as an industry, we identify our goal, we are serious about it, we commit resources to it, we stick with it over time and don't get discouraged, we can make a difference."

Prior to the school meal issue, the NPC was working to include potatoes among the vegetables now approved to be purchased with WIC vouchers. Their efforts were temporarily derailed with the school meal issue. With the issue largely behind them, Keeling says that victory "opens the door to go back and revisit the WIC issue in a very, very positive way."

The step that needs to be taken is to make the change after the nearly final ruling goes back to the USDA's office one last time.

Keeling says the Farm Bill this year is a "maybe" because the House is, "according to all people who have been observing for a long time, the most dysfunctional they've ever been."

At the conclusion, the board affirmed the three-cent assessment rate, Fiscal Year 2013 budget, FY12-16 Long Range Plan and they reaffirmed the mission statement and long range goals.

Chairman Todd Michael turned over the gavel to Sid Staunton of Tulelake, Calif., as the 2012-2013 USPB Chairman. Michael took over as the Immediate Past Chairman.

The USPB has now been in existence for 40 years. The USPB, also known as the National Potato Promotion Board, was authorized under the 1971 Potato Research and Promotion Act, signed into law by Pres. Richard Nixon.