COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — “Linda,” the embodiment of the U.S. Potato Board’s target audience, was front and center at its annual meeting, especially at a domestic marketing session.
The Denver-based board’s yearlong integrated domestic campaign, launched in September, aims to combat negative public perception of potatoes and declining consumption by appealing to the group that’s most likely to buy potatoes: “Lindas,” or middle-aged women with children and who value cooking.
“Linda provides the largest immediate opportunity to drive demand for potatoes,” president and chief executive officer Tim O’Connor said. “For other women, a frozen pizza is good enough. We target ‘Linda’ because she enjoys cooking for her family.”
This was O’Connor’s last potato board meeting leading the organization. He has announced plans to step down March 31 to become the CEO of the Denver-based Avocados From Mexico marketing group.
Tackling problem head on
The potato board is tackling public perception linking potatoes and obesity head on with a focus on research about the affordability and nutrient density of potatoes, and benefits for weight management, diabetes, and other health conditions, public relations manager Meredith Myers said.
“Anytime bad news emerges, the board has an action plan to tackle it,” Myers said.
That includes using “key influencers,” such as the Leawood, Kan.-based American Academy of Family Physicians, to disseminate nutrition information.
The public relations staff also uses digital programs to engage “Lindas,” including the revamped website potatogoodness.com that went live in December. The site’s weekly recipe e-mail has surpassed 13,000 subscribers, and the board recently completed its first Pinterest contest for healthy potato recipes.
Market research consultant Kate Thompson also zeroed in on Linda, whose use of potatoes has remained stable or grown over the past few years even as the public increasingly views potatoes as fattening.
This contradiction means the board “has opportunities to be more overt with health messaging, especially among Lindas,” so they can make more informed decisions about potatoes, and consequently buy more, she said.
With consumer and retail efforts, the board is translating research into practice, with its Many Sides of Potatoes print and online advertising campaign that seeks to inspire Lindas in the kitchen with an emphasis on side dishes.
The ads seek to achieve that through recipes that offer new uses, are quick and easy and play up the vegetable’s fresh and natural qualities. The ads appear in magazines and on top of recipe websites.
“We make sure the messaging is integrated and consistent,” consultant Kris Caputo-Hurley said. “Linda will use the phone to search for recipe ideas. So we’re making sure the message shows up when people search online for dinner and side ideas.”
On the retail side, the board offers recipe cards and information about potato varieties.
“We don’t want Linda to stop using one kind of potato, but to add in other kinds,” said Don Ladhoff, a retail consultant to the board. “When people buy more varieties, their annual total consumption goes up.”
The board’s co-chairs of international marketing, Ritchey Toevs and Rob Davis, told attendees the greatest consumption growth is projected in Asia and Africa. Table stock potatoes sales are growing in Mexico, and the board also has its sights set on Central and South America.
The board’s international marketing group saw several achievements in 2012, international marketing manager Sarah Reece said.
The first shipments of table-stock potatoes entered Vietnam, Panama granted access to Oregon taters, and several sheds and fields were approved for shipments of chip-stock potatoes to Japan, which potentially could open the door for fresh potatoes.
Reece cited retail promos as a driver of international sales.
The board’s strategies included 32 retail promotions, which Reece said reached more than 7 million customers and grew international sales of fresh potatoes by more than 200% in 2012.