Given the United States Potato Board's (USPB's) mission to increase demand for potatoes and potato products, we place great value on the importance of understanding consumers and how they perceive, purchase and use potatoes. Each year, we field a major study of consumer attitudes and usage, and the findings from our 2013 study reveal several interesting trends that suggest opportunities for the retail channel.
The study reinforced the importance of potatoes at the dinner table, as 83 percent of participants reported serving potatoes for dinner at least once during the previous week. In fact, potatoes were eaten at 31 percent of dinners-second only to poultry at 35 percent-and fresh potatoes accounted for 68 percent of the potato dishes served.
A shift is occurring in how potatoes are being prepared; however, while mashing is still No. 1, the reported incidence of baking and roasting as the choice for the most recent potato meal grew over the prior year, while stovetop preparation declined.
Fifty-one percent of study participants use recipes at least monthly, and it was clear new preparation ideas continue to be vital. When respondents were asked what would be most likely to motivate them to serve potatoes at home more often, their answers in priority order were:
1) New ways of preparing potatoes [points to the opportunity for increasing category sales by providing more recipe ideas and serving suggestions];
2) Shorter cook times [again, can easily be addressed through more recipe ideas];
3) Healthier nutritionals [given the already strong nutritional profile of potatoes, this just needs be communicated more clearly];
4) Different tastes and textures [easily addressed by encouraging shoppers to try additional potato types].
When shopping for potatoes, 66 percent indicated they buy potatoes with the objective of always having them on hand. However, 28 percent stated they only wanted to buy what was needed for a few planned dinners-likely the reason behind growing sales of smaller bags-and 6 percent reported they only buy for one meal at a time. Surprisingly, a full 25 percent of respondents confessed they end up eating only three-quarters of what they purchase, with the remainder ultimately discarded.
When core potato customers were polled on what would motivate them most to purchase fresh potatoes during their shopping trips, their responses were:
1) Recipe and meal ideas before they get to the store;
2) Usage suggestions for each of the different potato types;
3) Recipe and meal ideas in the store;
4) Greater variety of potato types available.
So, how can you leverage these findings to create stronger potato category sales with your retail customers?
Help retailers give their shoppers more ideas for preparing potatoes, both before they reach the store (via circular ads and retailer websites), as well as during their shopping trips (by way of signs and potato packaging).
Ensure retailers are encouraging their shoppers to try additional potato types, offering information on the differing qualities (i.e., tastes and textures) of each type, as well as promoting smaller "trial size" packages.
Boost sales further by communicating the nutritional benefits of potatoes, e.g. only 110 calories for a medium-size, skin-on potato with no fat, sodium or cholesterol.
The USPB has also conducted recent research to better understand consumers who are purchasing specialty potatoes and convenience products, and is currently undertaking a major study of Millennials and how their growing numbers will impact the potato category. You can find information on these studies and more on the USPB's Resource Center at www.uspotatoes.com.