(March 21) BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Attendees at the U.S. Potato Board’s annual meeting were urged to develop value-added products and promote convenient uses for spuds to turn around stagnant sales.
From 2000-06, fresh sales were down 4%, with retail and foodservice showing similar trends even as the U.S. population grew by 6%, said Tim O’Connor, president and chief executive officer of the Denver-based board, which is marking its 35th year.
Potato growers have made strides in managing supply, but increasing profitability lies in creating demand for value-added potato products, O’Connor said.
He urged merchandising partnerships with retailers rather than just price promotions.
“We’re doing sales. We need to start doing marketing,” O’Connor said.
To help reach this goal, the board has begun its Best in Class program.
The effort combines retail promotions — focusing on assortment and price — and interactive demonstrations at elementary schools.
The program has been established in Sacramento, Calif.; St. Louis; and Harrisburg, Pa., working with retailers Raley’s, Schnuck Markets and Giant.
In order to make it easier for consumers to enjoy potatoes, the board has worked with the Turover Strauss Group, Springfield, Mo., to develop 21 recipes for one-dish meals or side dishes that can be prepared and cooked in less than 30 minutes using a microwave oven.
Developed with the help of chef Dustin Hilinski, the meals include French onion chicken and potatoes, cheeseburger and potato stick casserole, potato lasagna and microwave au gratin potatoes.
While the low-carbohydrate diet fad of a few years back has cooled off, many consumers — 25% — still associate potatoes with fattening food, said research consultant Larry Noedel of Noedel Marketing Research, St. Louis.
His research found 13% of consumers are on low-carb diets, and 40% say they are trying to eat mashed or baked potatoes less often.
The health aspect is crucial, Noedel said, and to change consumers’ perception of potatoes, he developed four possible marketing messages:
- It’s OK to love potatoes;
- Good carbs are a good thing;
- Fresh potato sides in 15 minutes or less; and
- Faster, healthier dinners.