(March 14, 11:10 a.m.) DENVER — Growers and others in the potato industry need to get behind the Potatoes: Goodness Unearthed campaign launched this year by the U.S. Potato Board.

That was a key point driven home during the board’s annual meeting March 12-14. About 175 industry members attended the meeting.

Potato marketers have fought twin bogeymen in recent years, said Tim O’Connor, president and chief executive officer of the potato board. The popularity of low-carb diets has eroded potato sales, he noted. While 17% of consumers expressed concern about the nutritional value of potatoes in surveys from 2001, that soared to 35% in 2004, he said. Online surveys for 2005-07 showed those doubts about the healthfulness of potatoes floating around 30%, he said. By healthfulness, he said, consumers meant concern about weight gain.

The second part of the double-whammy is the decline in the number of dinners prepared in-home.

“People think about potatoes when they cook traditionally. The problem is, they don’t cook traditionally as often as they used to,” O’Connor said.

The Goodness Unearthed slogan was devised by Sterling Brands, New York. It is intended to be a brand for potatoes much like the dairy industry uses Got Milk? and the beef industry uses Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner.

The emphasis for the board’s marketing in the recent past has been on the low-fat, high nutritional qualities of potatoes, but it is tough to differentiate the marketing message for potatoes on that alone, said Mike Bainbridge, executive vice president of Sterling Brands.

Surveys showed that potatoes evoke feelings of goodness and nurturing among consumers, Bainbridge said. Those results are singular to potatoes, compared to other products or vegetables.

“I would never say those sort of things about a stick of broccoli,” he said.

The campaign was launched Jan. 17 when it was featured on Food Network’s Web site.

While the potato board will throw its resources behind the campaign, its resources are limited, he said.

“That can’t be the whole campaign. The whole industry is going to have to get involved,” Bainbridge said.

He suggested growers could put the Goodness Unearthed logo on their trucks or put up signs on their property near highways.

“There’s a lot of things you can do, even if you’re not interacting with the consumer,” Bainbridge said.

Low-carb diets, less home cooking rough on spuds
Tim O’Connor, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Potato Board, tells attendees of the board’s annual meeting March 13 that people think about potatoes when they cook traditionally. “The problem is, they don’t cook traditionally as often as they used to,” he says.