Master Storytellers

Fresh Solutions Network lets its growers tell their stories to consumers

Published online: Feb 11, 2020 Articles, Grower of the Month Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the February 2020 issue of Potato Grower.

If you were to guide your browser to the website of Fresh Solutions Network and navigate to the page that shows where the company’s partner growers are located, you might be tempted to say they’re scattered across the country.

You would be wrong.

“It’s interesting that you use the word ‘scattered’,” says Kathleen Triou, Fresh Solutions’ president and CEO, before offering up a correction. “From the beginning, we’ve viewed it as being very strategically placed geographically.”

Reviewing the organization’s history, it’s tough to argue with her. From its inception in 2008, Fresh Solutions Network hasn’t made a move without a long-term strategy in mind. Fresh Solutions is the brainchild of three forward-thinking potato growers—Sterman Masser Farms of Sacramento, Pa.; Michael Family Farms of Urbana, Ohio; and Basin Gold of Pasco, Wash.—who saw the direction the retail potato market was headed and had no intention of being left behind. With the unabated rise in demand for food safety, traceability and transparency, only the strongest brands survive. But partnering with a big-name brand often forces individual farms into the background. Not wanting to miss the train or to abandon their respective roots, the three farms formed a partnership and began scouting for additional partners. The vision was to create a brand that customers could trust to provide a 52-weeks-a-year supply while enhancing each multi-generational farm family’s individual business.

“Our guys said, ‘We have way too much pride in the legacy of our farms,’” says Triou. “‘We can do what retailers want us to do, but we can do it in a different way that will give us a chance to keep our grandkids in the business.’”

Today, Fresh Solutions Network is made up of eight diverse potato farms stretching from Washington to Prince Edward Island to Florida and growing fresh-market russets, reds, yellows, specialties and organics. Their Side Delights brand of fresh potatoes can be seen in grocery stores across the country. Each farm maintains its own sales team and has a fairly clearly defined sales territory, but each communicates with the others to ensure that customer needs can be met any time, any place. Having actual growers as owners of the company enables a level of traceability from one end of the supply chain to the other that many sellers simply can’t replicate.

“When you put these operations together,” says Triou, “it truly knits a colorful and comprehensive offering that, frankly, is unparalleled, yet remains at a private level for each farm.”

That mindset has informed the production of Fresh Solutions Network’s latest advertising campaign, which has been dubbed “Grown Where It Matters.” With an acute understanding of consumers’ thirst for knowledge about the origins of their food, the Fresh Solutions folks are leveraging the individuality of their farmers to slake that thirst. When Triou talks about the farmers of Fresh Solutions Network, it’s with an earnest sincerity that would make even the hardiest anti-aggie believe in the innate goodness of the American potato grower. Each sack of potatoes has a story to tell, and Triou and her growers intend to tell it.

“To a lot of people, the story about the farmer has become just as important as the quality of the product,” says Triou. “People crave a glimpse into the farm and into the psyche of the farmer, hoping to see the passion they want in someone who produces the food they’re feeding to their children.”

Triou, accompanied by a videographer armed with a 360-degree camera, visited and interviewed each of her growers in their own fields and presented a simple request: Tell us your story. From these interviews, interactive 360-degree YouTube videos were created, as well as a longer-form, more in-depth podcast series. Starting this year, consumers will be pointed to “Grown Where It Matters” videos of growers in their region by Kwik-Lok tags on each bag of Side Delights potatoes.

“Our farmers are great storytellers. They have such a connection to their land and to their families,” says Triou. “It has been amazing to bring a videographer out to the farms and really capture and share the majesty of these all-the-way-to-the-horizon fields that are completely in flower. Today’s technology really affords us to the opportunity to melt away the miles and bring consumers right into our growing areas.” 

Without that age-old, most invaluable form of communication—a good story and the ability to tell it well—Triou knows that the “Grown Where It Matters” campaign may very well have fallen flat on its face. But, she says, when it comes to both storytelling and potato production, “These guys have been doing it for generations.”

The “Grown Where It Matters” videos can be found at www.sidedelights.com/who-we-are.