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Low cost always has been an ally to potato sales in foodservice, but marketers say spuds also serve as stabilizers for menus.

“Foodservice has traditionally been focused on price, with long-term contracting being an integral part of the equation,” said Ralph Schwartz, vice president of sales and category management with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based grower-shipper Potandon Produce LLC. 

“Major foodservice customers want to offer their customers pricing which will allow them to compete, but also to minimize menu changes, which keeps operating costs down.”

Potato sales strategies have evolved, Schwartz said.

“As the potato industry changed, so did our sales tactics, with more varieties and unique-shaped and sized potatoes making their way into the foodservice channel — fingerlings, baby and petite sizes of exotics and colored potatoes, and exclusive varieties, grown only for specific customers based on exacting needs and standards— are becoming a bigger part of the overall sales pitch,” Schwartz said.

It’s important to market potatoes as more than a one-dimensional item, said Ross Johnson, international marketing director with the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.

“Focus on the versatility of potatoes — their overall ability to help the operator manage food costs, while delivering endless variety in the number of ways they can be menued,” Johnson said. 

That’s where multiple varieties can spice up foodservice business, said John Pope, vice president of sales and marketing with Houston-based grower-shipper MountainKing.

“When it comes to foodservice, it’s important to tout distinctive potato varieties, flavor and nutrition,” Pope said. “Our Satina variety, with its intense yellow appearance, improved flavor and high levels of beta carotene, is one of our top foodservice sellers.”

Foodservice requires a distinct marketing approach from retail, noted Keith Groven, fresh sales manager with Grand Forks, N.D.-based Black Gold Farms.

“Foodservice is a completely different and incredibly fun segment to work with potatoes,” he said. 

“With foodservice, we can really get creative and promote some wild recipes and serving suggestions. We talk a lot about regional trends with our foodservice partners and how what we are seeing in one part of the country may be a good fit in another.”

An apt example is the spring shrimp boil season that has its roots in the Gulf of Mexico region of the U.S, Groven said.

“But, in recent years, we’ve seen some great successes with operators in other parts of the country using those Cajun flavors that are obviously complete with red potatoes,” he said.

Marketing potatoes at foodservice falls into the “trending continuum” sector, said Rachel Atkinson-Leach, category manager with Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange Inc. 

“Foodservice potato marketers should focus messaging on global flavors, plant-based and functional food trends,” she said. 

Priority foodservice segments, known as “Innovative Inspirers” and “Keep it Simples,” are showing the most potential to increase potato usage in foodservice, Atkinson-Leach said, quoting “Foodservice Operator Potato Segmentation,” a report Technomic Inc. published last October.

“To reach ‘Innovative Inspirers,’ marketers should provide menu inspiration, present unique potato ideas and identify influencers in the segment and use them as ambassadors,” she said, citing Technomic’s report. 

“To reach ‘Keep it Simples,’ marketers should highlight value-added potato products, present easy-to-execute menu ideas and educate on benefits of potatoes relative to consumer demand.” P

 
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