Strategic merchandising can inspire potato consumers - The Packer

Strategic merchandising can inspire potato consumers

12/02/2011 11:05:00 AM
Coral Beach

Courtesy Idaho Potato CommissionIn a seasonal joint promotion by the Idaho Potato Commission and Fresh Gourmet Crispy Onions, onions come with a 55-cent coupon for Idaho potatoes and recipes for traditional holiday favorites.Consumers think they are driving the cart, but savvy retailers can use merchandising to steer shoppers through their stores with potato power.

Modern produce departments provide potatoes the perfect position to push shoppers into the center store and beyond, according to the latest research report issued by the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board.

Data from the study by the Sterling Rice Group of Boulder, Colo., shows that a dynamic approach to fresh potato marketing — as opposed to static displays of bulk bins — can boost overall sales for retailers, said Kate Thomson, research manager for Sterling Rice.

Thomson and Don Ladhoff, the board’s retail consultant, discussed details of the shopper study during a web seminar Nov. 15.

“Shoppers are literally wandering the aisles looking for inspiration,” Thomson said.

She said data from a quantitative online survey of 1,900 shoppers and a qualitative survey of 20 people in July and August showed potato buyers shop more often and longer — 47 minutes vs. 37 minutes — than those who did not buy potatoes.

Ladhoff said the research showed potato buyers have twice as many items in their shopping carts than those not buying potatoes.

“Retailers have more time to market in-store to shoppers who buy potatoes,” Ladhoff said.

Retailers can cash in on potato power

Suggestions during the Web presentation to maximize sales using potato power included providing meal plans, showcasing special varieties, tie-in promotions with products in other departments and point-of-sale information reminding shoppers that their families love to eat potatoes.

Thomson said the survey data showed 60% of grocery shoppers get meal ideas while they are shopping. Another 49% said they actually wander the aisles to get ideas.

Fresh potato buyers in particular said they are swayed by sales and in-store promotions. The data showed potato buyers often buy more than planned.

However, the data also showed that potato buyers do not see the potato section as informative.

“We really need retailers to rally around this and stand up and provide information to customers in the potato section,” Ladhoff said.

Given that the research shows potato buyers want to serve potatoes more often and they are wandering the aisles for inspiration, the potato display must become “a hub of information and ideas,” Ladhoff said.

Supporting role of grower-shippers

Just as retailers must embrace the concepts supported by the data in the 2011 shopper study, growers and shippers must help the retailers harness potato power.

Lafhoff said one easy step that growers and shippers can implement almost instantly is better use of packaging. Blank space on bags and labels can be replaced with meal plans or recipes to spur shoppers to serve potatoes more often and buy other meal components from the center store.

Thomson also encouraged growers and shippers to share highlights from the shopper study with their retail customers. A summary of the study is available on the U.S. Potato Board’s website at

Ladhoff said grower-shippers need to make two major shifts: switch from a production focus to a consumer focus, and move from being a vendor to being a partner in relationships with retailers.

“If all I’m concerned about (as a grower-shipper) is cost, I’m not doing as much with packaging, in-store demos and POS materials as I should be,” Ladhoff said.

At the expo

  • Research summary: “Fresh Potatoes in Today’s Market Place – Attitudes and Purchasing Trends”
  • Who: Kate Thomson, research manager for Sterling Rice Group
  • When: 10 a.m. to noon, Jan. 5
  • Where: 2012 Potato Expo, Orlando, Fla.

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