Mikkel PatesGregg Halverson (from left), of Black Gold Farms, Grand Forks, N.D., and U.S. Potato Board member Bob Davis, Presque Isle, Maine, visit with Richard Okray of Okray Family Farms, Plover, Wis., during a networking break at the World Potato Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.EDINBURGH, Scotland — The 8th World Potato Congress featured presentations on a range of spud-related topics, but often the action was in the hallways and at ancillary meetings.
“For us it’s about building demand for potatoes,” said Tim O’Connor, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Potato Board. A group of potato board staff attended the May 27-30 conference.
Although U.S. potatoes aren’t marketed in the United Kingdom, the conference of some 800 registrants from around the world served as a nucleus for other meetings for the potato board.
In the U.K., the U.S. Potato Board officials met with the British Potato Council to exchange information, especially how to market unique varieties.
“We don’t compete with each other,” O’Connor said. “We have very similar markets, so we’ve exchanged our market and consumer research. We talk about our different program activities together.”
After the event, the potato board entourage traveled to London to meet three of the largest grower-shipper groups.
“We haven’t been here since 2006,” O’Connor says. “I’m renewing a chance to visit with the shippers, growers, packers, retailers — what’s new, where are you?”
The nutritional image of the potato is a common issue these days, even among competitors.
Perhaps 90% of U.K. potatoes are sold fresh under a varietal label — roughly twice the level marketed by general variety category in the U.S.
“They’re ahead of us on fresh potato innovation,” O’Connor said. “We want to learn from them, what’s working. They’re very willing to share that with us because we don’t compete.”
Albert Bartlett & Sons Ltd., the largest supplier of potatoes in the U.K., is way out in front, marketing particular varieties like the red-skinned, white-fleshed Rooster variety, “There’s nobody in the U.S. doing anything of that magnitude to market,” O’Connor said. “There are a number of grower and marketing companies that have unique varieties. They’re attempting to build similar business but they’re not putting the kind of marketing horsepower behind it that Albert Bartlett has.”
Ronnie Bartlett, managing director of the company, and grandson to the founder, talked about the success of Rooster in the U.K. In late 2011, the company opened a sales office in Denver to launch the product in the U.S.
O’Connor said the evolution of social media and quick response codes may be the key to cementing connections between consumers and growers in North America. Albert Wada, director of Wada Farms Inc., uses U.S. Potato Board retail tools to shift from marketing potatoes as a commodity to more sophisticated presentations.
In a similar vein, Herman Vervold, commercial director and sector manager for HZPC, the Netherlands, showed examples of retail potato displays, with different products and applications.
The display was “much more inviting than the traditional display that you see in the U.S.” O’Connor said.