SUN VALLEY, Idaho - Potatoes USA is moving from giving consumers "permission" to eat potatoes to a more targeted message of athletic performance as a lifestyle benefit.

Sarah Reece, global marketing manager for Potatoes USA, spoke Aug. 31 at the Idaho Grower Shippers Association and reviewed consumer attitudes and outlined marketing programs for the coming year.

The group will have a new approach to its nutrition program, she said.

"In our strategic plan just developed and launched in fiscal year 2017, one of the objectives is that consumers know potatoes for one key lifestyle benefit and supporting health claims," she said.

Potato nutrition has always been stressed by Potatoes USA, she said, but historically the campaigns have been "permissive" - giving consumers permission to eat potatoes.

"We really now want potatoes to be prescriptive," she said.

Messages will target what consumers needs are and tell them how potatoes fit into their lifestyle and meet their needs.

In the end, the targeted lifestyle benefit was determined to be athletic performance, with the supporting health claims relating to calories, carbohydrates and potassium.

"In FY 2017, we have developed a lot of activities to promote the lifestyle benefit of athletic performance," she said. Those include working with sports media, registered dietitians from several professional sports teams, and pitching the potato performance story to media, working with bloggers and fitness trainers.

Marketing programs also will again stress the theme of potatoes as the new "9th wonder of the world" campaign to food enthusiasts. The campaign will include print and digital advertising, social media, influencer program work and having print ads in retail publications and mobile ads around retail locations.

Consumer research

Reece said consumer research reveals less than half of the general population and the food enthusiast target audience consider potatoes as "excellent" for convenience and being prepared quickly and easily. In 2016, 44% of general consumers and 52% of food enthusiasts rated potatoes as "excellent" in convenience, with 42% of the general population and 48% of consumers rating potatoes as "excellent" in terms of being prepared quickly and easily.

"A lot of consumers just don't think of potatoes being prepared quickly and easily and that could have a lot to do with why we are seeing a decline at retail," she said. "That's something we are going to be working on as we develop new recipes and our consumer marketing programs will definitely be targeting some convenience recipes."

Despite seeing a decrease in retail sales volume, the share of dinners at home with potatoes remained stable in the last survey, and data showed an increase the use of potatoes by food enthusiasts.

"We are seeing an increase in potatoes being prepared at home despite that decrease in sales at the retail level," she said.