Health Attributes Drive Potato Sales

Published online: Dec 11, 2018 Articles Jim Offner
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Source: The Packer 

The best way to keep potatoes moving is to keep consumers informed, marketers say.

“The key is to have all types of potatoes on display and information on their best uses,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.

Understanding the consumer’s evolving attitudes and behaviors about food is paramount to marketing any food product, including potatoes, said Kim Breshears, marketing programs director with Denver-based Potatoes USA.

“Marketing potatoes ... is effective when consumers see the product in a way that connects to them personally and serves or meets an important role in what they choose to eat.”

A strong connection is health, said Dana Rady, director of promotion, communication and consumer education with the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.

“Nutrition plays a very important role in our communications and educational opportunities,” Rady said. 
The association’s current message is “Power Your Performance with Wisconsin Potatoes” and focuses on a balance between diet and physical training and active lifestyles, Rady said.

“That’s to say that potatoes are a fantastic food to eat pre-workout to provide the energy your body needs and post-workout since the vitamins and nutrients help your body recover,” she said.

Some marketing efforts focus on new varieties, but that alone is not the answer, said Ted Kries, marketing and communication director with the East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers Association.

“The packaging and marketing of potatoes is so entrenched in identifying potatoes by color type rather than varieties, I don’t see anyone variety gaining a substantial market share,” he said.

Varieties, plus convenience, do have a role to play in marketing potatoes, said John Pope, vice president of sales and marketing with Monte Vista, Colo.-based MountainKing Potato.

“Without question, the growth of the category lies in our ability to present culinary-conscious consumers with easy-to-prepare, gourmet varieties,” he said. 

“The success of MountainKing’s fingerlings, Butter Golds and Butter Reds are good examples.”

The key to marketing potatoes is to give them “a personality,” and for consumers not to see them as just a standard staple item, said Leah Halverson, director of new business development with Grand Forks, N.D.-based Black Gold Farms.

“There are so many ways that consumers can use them — besides the tried-and-true recipes that they’re used to,” she said.
Halverson agreed that varieties do spice up the potato business for retailers.

“Different varieties and sizes are also making the potato marketplace fun when it comes to trying something new in the potato category,” she said.

Packaging also is important, said Rachel Leach, category manager for Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange Inc.

“Fortunately, commodity potato packaging has evolved and often has a lot of landscape to invoke a specific shopper connection whether its performance enhancing, sustainable, cause supporting or connecting with the grower,” she said. 

“Switching up packaging types between poly to mesh to poly/mesh or the new gusseted bags with handles can also create a fresh perspective and excitement.”

Packaging has become integral to marketing potatoes, said Jeff Watkin, graphics and marketing director with Collinsville, Ill.-based packaging manufacturer Sev-Rend Corp.

“Not only does it get branding out there, but it communicates certain messages consumers are looking for, such as how to use the potatoes, recipe ideas and nutritional facts,” Watkin said. 

“That’s why you see a lot of growth in pouches, for example, for mini potatoes.” 
Bags and pouches also are bowing to consumer preference for product visibility, Watkin said.

“Especially with fresh produce, people want to see what they’re buying,” he said. Steamer pouches are an example of packaging that can fill that, and other, functions, because they are transparent and have room for recipe ideas and other consumer-centric information, Watkin said.

“It gives retailers flexibility for merchandising, but it also is flexible for grower-packers, because it’s an option that can be hand-packed and run through equipment,” he said.