Tim O'Connor, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Potato Board, addresses members of the board at its annual meeting March 11.
(UPDATED COVERAGE, March 12) DENVER â The U.S. Potato Board is targeting declining demand as a top priority.
During the groupâs annual meeting March 11, board President Tim OâConnor urged members, in approving the next long-term plan, to make fixing declining demand a priority, and to focus on long-term goals. About 100 members were in attendance.
âIf you have an industry of declining demand, there are a few things you see,â OâConnor said. âYou see a lot of people who want to sell, and not a lot of people who want to buy, so you get a price war. Nobody wins a price war but the buyer.â
Negative press about acrylamide (a naturally occurring chemical compound produced by heating potatoes and other high-starch foods), low-carb diets, obesity and the perceived exclusion of potatoes in the lifestyles of on-the-go people are contributing to the declining demand, OâConnor said.
âI think if we donât remain focused on long-term demand as a potato board, weâre going to be missing the boat,â OâConnor said. âI understand the short-term problems, low prices, too many potatoes, but thereâs an endpoint to those problems.â
The speech was a call to action for grower-shippers.
âAre you communicating to consumers about nutrition? Youâve got a vehicle. Youâve got packaging. Just say something to consumers about nutrition,â OâConnor said.
OâConnor asked marketers to slap the nutrition message on trucks, signs on the highway, and, jokingly, on their childrenâs clothing.
He also stressed the importance of different industry sectors, including table stock, dehydrated, chipping, frozen and seed, working together on domestic marketing, international marketing and product innovation.
âThereâs too much competition in this industry between sectors, and I donât see the upside,â OâConnor said.
Negative media messages about acrylamide is not only a processed potato problem, he said.
âIt hasnât hurt demand yet, but it has potential, if it gets too much negative press, to add to declining demand,â OâConnor said. â(With) fresh, you donât get to dodge that bullet.â
With the federal governmentâs focus on child obesity, potato products are in danger of being pulled from school menus.
âWhoâs going to argue itâs okay to keep making our children fat?â OâConnor said. âI know we have great products, and I havenât bought into this agenda yet, but right now, our arguments against this agenda are weak.â
This issue isnât limited to french fries, OâConnor said, because people like to load up fresh potatoes with fattening products, making them equally if not more unhealthful menu options.
âThe reason USPB hasnât fixed this yet is itâs not just USPBâs problem, itâs everybodyâs problem,â OâConnor said.