Do You Know Smart Potatoes?

Helping Solve Menu Issues and Increasing Sales in Japan

Published in the June 2013 Issue Published online: Jun 20, 2013 John Toaspern, USPB VP, International Marketing
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Most everyone in the potato industry uses smart technologies such as GPS and smartphones in their operations. There is certainly no end to the "smart" solutions to energy usage, investing, dieting, transportation, etc. But are there smart solutions for chefs and restaurant chains? Well, the USPB international marketing program in Japan is providing them with a "smart potato" campaign that will help solve menu issues and increase sales.

Those of us in the potato industry know potatoes are the perfect food: being low in calories, highly nutritious, extremely versatile and, most importantly, extremely tasty. But chefs, restaurant owners and consumers in Japan do not appreciate these facts as well as they should. The SUMAPO (Smart Potato) campaign, which kicked off in February, is designed to change that. The campaign is designed to increase the use at foodservice (restaurants, caterers, hotels, institutions, etc.) of U.S. frozen and dehydrated potatoes. Japan does not allow the entry of fresh potatoes from the U.S. or any other country, except the limited access for U.S. chipping potatoes.

The kickoff event featured an opening address by the U.S. Agricultural Minister Counselor, David Miller, and then presentations by Sid Staunton, USPB Chairman, and John Toaspern, USPB Vice President for International Marketing. The USPB representative, Uniflex Marketing staff, then explained the concept behind the SUMAPO and some of the plans for moving forward with it.

Interspersed were videos on why U.S. frozen potatoes are the best in the world and should be used over other sources, an introduction to the mashed potato bar concept using U.S. dehydrated potatoes and the use by a well-known Japanese chef of U.S. frozen and dehy products in a number of different dishes. Finally, the chef was brought on stage for a lively and entertaining Q&A about his experiences with developing the recipes using U.S. potato products. He confirmed a number of the recipes developed have now been added to the menus at his restaurants.

The 100-plus participants then moved into the next room where they were treated to samples of the dishes developed by the chef. The U.S. processors, both frozen and dehy, had booths in this room where they were able to display their products, provide samples and meet prospective customers. Prior to the event, USPB staff and representatives met with six members of the restaurant trade media for a more in-depth discussion. The result was eight articles published about the SUMAPO campaign.

The campaign will be a multi-year process, with the first big promotion set for May 2013. Restaurants will feature at least three menu items made with U.S. potato products, frozen or dehy. The USPB will promote the participating restaurants on-line and in advertisements and provide in-store promotional materials conveying messages about U.S. potato quality and nutrition. Consumers who purchase U.S. potato dishes during the month will also have chances to win prizes.

In the future, there will be more trainings for chefs and product introductions to help stimulate new menu ideas and new uses in new channels. These will then be followed with additional consumer promotions to help increase demand for the products. Soon, everyone in Japan will know how smart U.S. potatoes can be! PG

SUMAPO. The USPB international marketing program in Japan is providing the country with a "smart potato" campaign, or SUMAPO, which kicked off in February. Courtesy image.