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    Tater Tactics

    Potato suppliers get savvy with spuds in ways that speak to Millennials and more.

    By Jennifer Strailey

    While potato sales have historically remained flat, a spate of innovative products, cleverly targeted packaging and strategic promotions has positioned tubers to take off like never before.

    One important change has been a shift in potato marketing, as suppliers and industry organizations consider the Millennial shopper. These adults, 18 to 33 years old, represent an influential demographic of more than 51 million consumers.

    And potatoes may be just what these young consumers seek. The Denver-based United States Potato Board?s (USPB) research indicates that Millennials are looking for foods that are fun, affordable, healthful, unprocessed and convenient.

    In a board-commissioned study, FreshFacts Nielsen and the Boulder, Colo.-based consumer research agency Sterling-Rice Group found that 38 percent of Millennials report choosing the potato variety best suited for the preparation they have in mind, suggesting that signage and cross-merchandising may be even more critical in reaching this demographic.

    Millennials also shop with a different agenda from previous generations. The USPB-commissioned research found that 51 percent of Millennials? shopping occasions were to buy for a single meal. Thus, they?re more likely to grab a handbasket than a cart at the grocery store.

    This new breed of shopper has inspired Houston-based MountainKing Potatoes to introduce a number of new products designed to lift sales of potatoes. ?Our research indicates that [shoppers 35 and under] are more adventurous and more willing to try new and different things; however they are also very attuned to not throwing things away,? says John Pope, VP of sales and marketing. ?This is why it?s important to sell potatoes in 1-, 2- and 3-pound units, as opposed to 5- and 10-pound bags exclusively.?

    MountainKing?s new Half-Pallet Grill Bin, which attracts attention with the look of a stainless-steel backyard grill, holds 84 5-pound bags, 130 3-pound bags or 100 tray packs. Its Tater Town Stack Boxes, which feature MountainKing?s Steak House Bakers (fingerlings), hold 64 3-pound bags, 96 roaster bags or 96 tray packs.

    For Millennials and other shoppers who buy with a particular menu in mind, MountainKing also recently introduced high-graphic display wraps that suggest pairing potatoes with other dishes. Four new wraps are available for Steak House Roasters, Steak House Bakers, Crawfish Reds and Seafood Market Reds. According to the company, the display wraps have boosted sales of 3-pound Seafood Reds and 4-packs by 53 percent.

    ?We see a very strong correlation between people who buy fresh fish and small red potatoes,? asserts Pope, ?so we created a mesh boil-ready bag for reds that can be dropped right into boiling water for someone doing a clam or lobster bake.? Cross-merchandising these items in the seafood department drives the message home.

    Fresh Solutions Network, in San Francisco, has also set its sights on Millennials, with the new Side Delights Roastables line of potatoes. The company, citing the USPB ?Attitudes & Usage Study 2014,? says the demographic is 30 percent more likely to prepare potatoes by roasting than the average U.S. consumer.

    Available in reds, yellows and a combo pack of both, Roastables come in a 1-pound clamshell container that features a metal bottom for either oven roasting or grilling. Accompanying the potatoes are seasonings from Montana Mex, including Mexican oregano, garlic and ancho chilies.

    ?We set out to target Millennial shoppers with a hot new item that is simple to prepare, needs no cleanup, and features bold, global flavors to spice up their favorite side dish,? explains Kathleen Triou, president and CEO, who recommends merchandising Roastables in the convenience section of the main potato table, near creamers, smaller bags and steamable products.

    Promotions Spotlighting Spuds

    The Idaho Potato Commission (IPC), in Eagle, Idaho, is expanding several of its highly successful campaigns to ensure that the sense of tradition associated with its product stays fresh. The Great Big Idaho Potato truck promotion has been extended another two years, while The Potato Lover?s Month will run for eight weeks (mid-January to mid-March) in 2015, rather the traditional four.

    More than 5,000 supermarket chains and independent retailers participated in 2014?s annual Potato Lover?s Month retail display promotion in February, the most ever in the contest?s 23-year history.

    Plans for the Great Big Idaho Potato Truck 2015 tour are underway, but specific destinations, other than mainstays like the Kentucky Derby, are as yet under wraps. To keep tour excitement alive during the off-season, the IPC recently launched a national television commercial featuring a perplexed potato farmer searching for his tater truck. According to the IPC, the TV spot has generated brand awareness and engaged consumers on social media more than any of its previous commercials.

    ?Idaho invests a great deal in consumer-related marketing to create more demand in both Idaho potatoes and the category as a whole,? says IPC VP Retail/International Seth Pemsler.

    The commission also gives retailers access to its in-house team of category management analysis experts. ?The sole job of our promotion directors is to assist retailers in becoming more successful,? notes Pemsler, who adds that these experts in the field are all former produce managers, buyers and directors. ?We encourage retailers to look at them as no-cost consultants,? he observes.

    One function of the promotion directors is to show retailers data on potato advertising. IPC buys Market Track data to monitor every potato ad that runs during a given time period. As a result, the commission can show retailers comparisons of their own store ads with those of their competitors, to assess the impact of ad frequency, pricing, product variety and presentation.

    ?We show them the actual ads,? says Pemsler. This gives retailers an opportunity to see the effectiveness of many factors, including showing prepared potatoes in their ads, versus raw potatoes. ?Generic potatoes are not necessarily as enticing as a baked potato with sour cream or mashed potatoes,? he notes.

    Such were the findings of the USPB, when it commissioned the Nielsen Perishables Group to track the effectiveness of retail ads that included potatoes over a 52-week period. The study looked at ads featuring pictures of cooked potatoes versus ads with raw or bagged potatoes, and found that when retailers ran ads with prepared images, they experienced a 23-point higher incremental volume lift.

    ?Our research indicates that [shoppers 35 and under] are more adventurous and more willing to try new and different things; however, they are also very attuned to not throwing things away.?
    ?John Pope, MountainKing Potatoes

    By Jennifer Strailey
    • About Jennifer Strailey

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