Central America and social media are two top trending topics in potato marketing programs this spring as smaller continues to get bigger in the category.
From a nationwide perspective at the U.S. Potato Board, Denver, to state organizations such as the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, everyone is pushing to expand their international footprints.
Sarah Reece, international marketing manager for the potato board, said sales increases from startup programs in Vietnam helped prove the organization could create new markets for potatoes from U.S. growers. After two years of networking and showcasing U.S. table-stock varieties, the potato board is seeing its efforts create new sales.
“The first ever commercial shipments of U.S. table-stock potatoes began arriving in Vietnam this (past) fall,” Reece said. “U.S. potatoes can now be found in 97 retail outlets throughout Vietnam.”
Reece said exports of fresh potatoes from the U.S. to Vietnam increased 614% for the last six months of 2012 compared to the same time period in 2011. In 2011 the U.S. sent 347 tons of fresh potatoes to the country in Southeast Asia, compared to about 2,480 tons in 2012.
With that success on the books, the potato board is now going after the fresh potato markets in Central America. Consumer research in Guatemala and El Salvador showed the board that it needed to conduct consumer and retailer education programs, Reece said.
The board already conducted education programs with six retailers in the two Central American countries this year. Reece said the average sales increase during those promotions has been 241% compared to pre-promotion periods.
Petites, fingerlings big
On the domestic potato scene, increasing overall consumption remains the goal, with many companies turning to tiny potatoes to maximize profit.
For example, Wada Farms, Idaho Falls, Idaho, is making a big push through Easter and the rest of spring with its microwave-in-bag packs of bite-sized mini reds and golds, said Chris Wada, director of marketing. He said Wada also has good volumes of microwaveable, individually wrapped sweet potatoes this spring.
Across the country, at the headquarters of the Specialty Potato Alliance, Mountainside, N.J., small potatoes are also big news this spring.
Multi-colored fingerlings are the spotlight product for the alliance said Dale Firman, a founding member and head of the SPA West Coast operations.
He said the ability to pack as many as four varieties of fingerlings together has proven a strong selling point for the alliance.
RPE Inc., Bancroft, Wis., is also offering baby potatoes on a seasonal basis under its new brand, Old Oak Farms, said Randy Shell, vice president of marketing and business development.
He said the company also plans to introduce several new stock-keeping units to the product line this spring, featuring two new signature varieties.
“Our agronomy team has been working with these two varieties for several seasons and they have received rave reviews during our independent consumer taste panels,” Shell said. In Nixa, Mo., Market Fresh Produce LLC is also cashing in on the less-is-more trend with new packaging this spring for baby, petite and fingerling potatoes, said Mike Kemp, business analyst for Market Fresh.
Potato hashtags and ‘likes’
Regardless of the size of the potatoes involved, potato board research shows Facebook is the No. 1 online destination for consumers.
Linda Weyers, assistant director for the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista, said the state group continues to see increasing social media traffic for its links to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. She pointed to the committee’s recipe for fingerling potato salad with lemon and thyme, which has become a “go-to recipe” for consumers nationwide recently.
The Idaho Potato Commission also remains committed to using social media, said spokeswoman Sue Kennedy.
She said the commission’s two-week February recipe contest generated more than 200 online entries. A panel of judges selected 10 finalists.
Consumers voted on the finalists from Feb. 28-March 10, driving more people to the commission’s website. The winning entry is scheduled to be announced on the syndicated television show “Mr. Food.”
The commission’s social media report for 2012 recently was released and showed more than 20,300 people have “liked” the commission’s Facebook page.
It had more than 4,000 Twitter followers as of the end of 2012, and almost 1,200 followers on Pinterest, the report said.