The U.S. Potato Board and the National Onion Association expect colorful, handled paper tote bags to help retailers and consumers “Create Mealtime Magic” and bump up retail sales of the two commodities.

The cross-promotional effort, patterned after the paper tote bags used for bananas, apples, oranges and more recently pears, was the brainchild of Don Ladhoff, retail program consultant based in Detroit for the Denver-based USPB.

He said he came up with the idea after visiting a retailer and seeing a few clear plastic bags filled with potatoes by the bulk potato display.

He also saw white kraft totes imprinted with the Produce for Better Health’s More Matters logo in a Denver retailer’s produce department.

“From our research, we know that shoppers rate the potato table poorly in giving them information, giving them new ideas and inspiring them to do something new,” Ladhoff said. “We’re always looking for ways to provide more information to those shoppers.”



About the same time, he said data from behavior analytics company Spire, Monroe, Conn., showed potatoes and onions shared audiences at the retail level.

Based on the data from 14 major retail chain loyalty programs that represented about 31 million households, about 27% of shopping carts that had potatoes in them also had onions.

Conversely, 28% of shopping carts that had onions also had potatoes. That compares with 7% of all shopping carts with onions alone.

The potato board already knew that many potato grower-shippers also are involved with onions. In addition, many of the retail potato category managers are responsible for onions.

Ladhoff then approached the Greeley, Colo.-based National Onion Association about participating in a joint promotional effort using tote bags.


Information and recipes

The potato and onion campaign, which suggests shoppers “Create Mealtime Magic,” will feature white kraft tote bags imprinted with green and purple ink. One side has facts about potatoes, the other side about onions.

On each side gusset will be a recipe featuring onions and potatoes.

“The idea is to bring some information and recipes to that section of the produce department because it’s an area that’s underserved with

information,” said Kim Reddin, onion association director of public and industry relations.

She acknowledged that other point-of-sale materials, such as tear-off recipe pads, tend to get lost or shunted into a corner where they lose their impact.

She and Ladhoff said they also realized that produce departments frequently have a shortage of employees, and retailers are apprehensive about taking on promotions that require additional labor.

That’s why the two organizations have enlisted the help of their grower-shipper members, Reddin said.

During packing, grower-shippers will place three to five totes on top of the potatoes or onions in the carton just before the lid is put on.

When the produce department employee goes to restock the bulk potato or onion display, the bags are right at hand.

“It will help the retailer and grower-shipper develop stronger connections with this project,” Reddin said. “It gives the grower-shipper the opportunity to use this to move more product for them.”


Making the connection

Rick Kantner, director of sales and marketing for Alsum Farms & Produce, Friesland, Wis., said he’s shown the tote bags to a couple of retailers, who are already interested in trying them in their stores.

“Our vision here is to really connect directly with the consumer and help the retailer make that connection too,” Kantner said. “We really believe if you give consumers ideas and thoughts, they’re looking to have fun. And potatoes and onions are two of the really key products within the produce department.”

Based on data provided by the bag company with whom they’re working, Reddin said sales of fruit in the handled tote bags increased by up to 15%.

The potato and onion groups plan to run a pilot program this winter.

“We want to be able to quantify for both of our industries what the success looked like, shopper response and the category lift that the tote bags achieved,” Ladhoff said.

Based on retailer and consumer feedback, the groups will tweak the program and hope to have it ready for a nationwide rollout by the first quarter of 2013, Reddin said.