Potato board gets aggressive on health messagesCOLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The U.S. Potato Board isn’t shy about raising the topic: Are potatoes a fattening worthless starch with empty calories?

That question is displayed prominently on the group’s website, and while the site demonstrates why that’s far from the truth, the board continues to fight that perception. It’s one of the main goals that domestic marketing manager Meredith Myers has this year, and it’s an issue discussed at the board’s 2014 annual meeting March 10-13 at the Broadmoor Hotel.

“We have gone head-on this year with battling the myth that potatoes are fattening,” Myers said. “… We’re not apologizing for anything. We’re getting out there and telling consumers that potatoes are not bad for you.”

The health message is also focused on dietitians through what she dubs the Weight Management Roadshow, a series of presentations with dietitian consultant Kathie Beals.

The next one is March 21-23 at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Weight Management Symposium in St. Louis.

Myers said it’s important that the potato board’s health message is pervasive in many forums, from direct to consumer social media campaigns and programs for retailers and foodservice operators. It’s a key component of the board’s partnership with Lisa Lillien, aka blogger Healthy Girl.

In breakout sessions focusing on domestic marketing programs, the board used an Academy Awards theme, “The Spudlys.”

In the public relations segment, Kris Caputo-Hurley from Fleishman-Hillard said Hungry Girl, who has a daily e-mail with more than 1.2 million subscribers, is a nutrition influencer. The board provided the blogger with nutrition facts to use when promoting potatoes.

“We’re not just saying to tell everybody that potatoes are good for you because we’re asking you to,” Caputo-Hurley said about the group’s directive to Hungry Girl. “There’s real science behind it.”

While the potato board hosts events for chefs to highlight the versatility of potatoes, as well as the variety available, the health message is a stronger component of the foodservice agenda.

“We’re looking to increase the usage of potatoes in foodservice by driving innovation with fresh and healthy sides, salads and entrees,” Myers said. “It’s not just how decadent we can make our potatoes, it’s how can we make them delicious, innovative and heathy.”

In the retail breakout, with a “Lord of the Rings” theme, Don Ladhoff, “Ladhoff the Gray,” president of consultant FreshSmartSolutions, said potatoes see volume and sales growth after he visits with retailers. He schedules 20 of these outreach meetings a year, and just signed an agreement to help Wakefern Food Corp. stores with the potato category.

“They have thrown open the door to leverage potatoes across all perishable departments,” he said.

Board president and CEO Blair Richardson, who succeeded Tim O’Connor last summer when O’Connor left to join Avocados from Mexico after 14 years with the potato group, said he’s spent a lot of time meeting with industry members the past seven months.

As the group starts work on its next five-year plan this fall, Richardson pledged transparency with the process and where the board spends its money.

Richardson said he’s establishing a new director of research and analysis, to provide more structure in that area. Currently, there’s no staff member responsible for the board’s $2.5 million research budget. The increased oversight will provide more research opportunities and could ensure research from individual states would be available to all growing regions.