Dr. Mehmet Oz, made famous by Oprah and now himself a popular talk-show host, dedicated much of his March 23, 2017 episode to promoting potatoes and educating viewers about their many uses (see it here: https://t.co/cQ1eWazTZw). The potato industry cheered. After all, our industry has not always seen eye to eye with Dr. Oz because he, like many celebrity influencers, has typically overlooked potatoes’ many health benefits in favour of riding the anti-carbohydrate bandwagon. Endorsement from Dr. Oz, whose talk-show reaches as many as four million viewers per episode, is incredibly valuable. Equally beneficial was his showcasing of different types of potatoes, their various uses, and the best methods for preparing each variety.
As Dr. Oz says in the episode, “I always thought potatoes were potatoes. I know I’m ignorant when I say this; I mean I heard the names of them but I didn’t realize the differences were related to how you cook them.” In fact, few consumers today understand that high starch potatoes cook up fluffy, making them ideal for baking, mashing and French fries, while low starch, waxy potatoes cook up more dense, making them better suited to soups, stews and salads.
Currently, the growth part of the market is in low to moderate-starch potatoes. While this may be partially due to their starch attributes and taste, a bigger driver is their ease of use: because they are thin-skinned, they require less handling in the kitchen. Likewise, small sized potatoes, which in years past would have been considered a second-rate or waste product, are also enjoying high and growing demand due to their convenience.
Like any other industry, the potato industry needs to find creative ways to get our “healthy potato” message to the consumer. Potatoes USA is leading this charge: one of their major marketing efforts in 2017 is to align with the registered dieticians who work with professional baseball, football and hockey teams (including the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Bengals) to “share potato performance stories” in mainstream and social media. Potatoes are an excellent energy source, which is why aligning with athletes is a natural fit.
The good news is that a shift in attitudes about potatoes is slowly occurring. Consumer enthusiasm for low-carb diets is waning and interest in potatoes’ nutrient profile is growing. That said, competition for space in grocery carts is fierce, so our industry must be proactive.
To encourage market traction, our industry needs to continue to educate consumers on the nutritional value of potatoes, and cooking methods that produce best results. Helping consumers enjoy potatoes depends on all of us putting effort into educating them and those who influence them.