Getting potatoes on American tables

Published in the January 2014 Issue Published online: Jan 17, 2014
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The United States Potato Board calls itself the “catalyst for positive change” in the potato industry, the “central organizing force in implementing programs that will increase demand for potatoes.”

In the 33 years since its inception, USPB has done an admirable job of being true to what it says it is. Thanks to this immense cooperation of growers, processors and other industry professionals—the largest vegetable commodity board—the U.S. potato industry has seen and continues to see growth on both the domestic and international fronts.

The question, as always, is “What’s next?” What is USPB’s plan for expanding potatoes’ reach and scope going forward? In a world where nutrition, convenience and coolness are all expected fit into seemingly every product, USPB’s marketing team has its hands full in its attempt to get potatoes onto the tables of as many people and families as possible.

For the last couple years, USPB has been knee-deep in what it has named the “Many Sides of Potatoes” ad campaign. The goal of the campaign is to improve health perceptions of potatoes while inspiring the targeted “Linda” demographic (women, aged 25 to 54, with children at home) to serve potatoes once more per week. In 2014, USPB is on a mission to bust the myth that potatoes are, by their very nature, inherently fattening. The goal is to focus the public’s attention on the many and varied health benefits potatoes offer.

“USPB’s marketing programs are centered on communicating the health benefits of potatoes,” says USPB public relations manager Meredith Myers. “We’ve added elements to enhance that message and combat the myth that potatoes are a fattening food.”


Phase 1: Consumer Public Relations

In September, USPB officially launched its partnership with Lisa Lillien, better known in many circles as Hungry Girl. In case you haven’t heard of her, Hungry Girl is a woman who, like so many other women—and men, for that matter—who wants to eat good food without the fear of going up a pant size or three.

She has become a media sensation with appearances on talk shows and with her daily e-blasts, which are sent to 1.2 million subscribers and have an open rate of about 30 percent. That’s roughly 360,000 people reading Hungry Girl’s messages every day, most of them Linda types. Linda only represents about 15 percent of Americans, but she influences a third of the population and is responsible for two-thirds of all fresh potato sales. USPB figures Linda serves potatoes one to three times per week; the goal, as stated earlier, is to get her to serve them once more weekly. Because Hungry Girl’s readership is primarily made up of this Linda demographic, USPB sees Lillien an ideal advocate for the potato industry.

“Lisa Lillien comes off as ‘one of us,’” says David Fairbourn, manager of industry communications and policy at USPB. “People really trust her.”

“It’s a girlfriend-to-girlfriend tone. Her audience loves talking with her,” agrees Myers.

Since teaming up with Hungry Girl, USPB has seen a 130 percent increase in visits to its website, a jump that’s impossible to ignore. “The early successes have been just tremendous,” says Fairbourn. “We couldn’t have possibly hoped for better response.”


Phase 2: Consumer Advertising

USPB has rethought its advertising campaign for 2014 and beyond. In the past, the boards’ advertising and public relations campaigns have often acted as separate entities. Moving forward, Myers says that USPB will be making a concerted effort to integrate its public relations with its online and print advertising.

Print advertisements have been redesigned to give them more panache and personality with the “Many Sides of Potatoes” campaign. One ad shows a scrumptious-looking potato casserole with the tagline “Proof that healthy and irresistible play well together.” Another pictures baked homemade fries and boldly proclaims, “Potato side dishes fattening? Pure urban legend.”

These ads reach Linda in eight cooking, health, parenting and women’s lifestyle magazines, generating an estimated 94.4 million impressions.

“It’s all about aligning our efforts and amplifying the message,” says Myers. “And we want people in the industry to know that it’s about the industry, not about the board.” In fact, USPB is encouraging anyone and everyone in the industry to use the USPB ads if they wish to.


Phase 3: Food Service Advertising Program

With their innate versatility, potatoes are, as one might expect, the top-selling side dish in foodservice. USPB is making a concerted effort to continue to raise the potato’s profile among top chefs and other leaders in the foodservice industry. The goal is to inspire professional chefs across the country to have fun with potatoes and to create an avenue for potatoes to be a building block for exciting, contemporary and healthy menu innovation in restaurants.

“We know that there’s demand for different and new varieties,” says Myers.

“Potatoes are a perfect canvas for transferring flavors in foods,” says Fairbourn, noting that more than half the chefs who participated in USPB’s culinary seminar at the Culinary Institute of America last year have tested or added new potato items to their menus.

And that’s the goal: One plate, one table at a time, USPB is getting more potatoes where they belong—into the bellies of satisfied consumers.