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Promoting Knowledge in the Produce Aisle

As the editor of Spud Smart, I peruse all kinds of potato-related information every day. I see a lot of interesting stories, and something I came across not too long ago got me thinking: Wouldn’t it be great if the people manning the produce aisle in my local supermarket knew more about potatoes?

It’s an idea that the U.S. Potato Board has taken to heart, with a program it has introduced to stimulate retailer understanding of how fresh potatoes get to their stores and what they can do to make the most of them.

The board developed a series of training modules for grocery store staff that provide education on harvest and packing, storage and handling, potato varieties, nutrition and marketing strategies. The online tool comes in the form of five short videos, each one including a quiz.

I’m not aware of any similar program in Canada, but I think it’s something that could generate a lot of benefits — for the potato industry, for retailers, and for consumers — in this country.

According to the USPB, the goal is to not only increase fresh potato sales but also ensure the quality of the product is maintained. The program also encourages store employees to share their newfound knowledge about the nutritional benefits of fresh potatoes as well as tips for cooking different varieties with customers. I think that’s great, because as we all know, increased consumer appreciation benefits everybody in the potato business.

I asked Peter Chapman, an expert in the Canadian food industry scene, particularly with respect to produce marketing, what he thought about the USPB training program for retailers. He feels it’s a great idea and would definitely work in Canadian stores.

“We can’t always assume that the people working for retailers understand how to handle every single item, and make it so that the consumer really gets the best experience with the product,”Chapman says.

“With retailers going through lots of different challenges themselves, it’s getting tougher and tougher to find training dollars. I think that any time a group of suppliers can get together to help the retailer educate their employees so that in the end the consumer gets the best experience, it’s a win for both.”

Chapman believes grocery stores in Canada would likely buy in if a service like the USPB potato training initiative became available for their employees — especially if they were part of the process.

“One of the things that I’ve noticed on the U.S. Potato Board site was that they seem to do a fair amount of collaboration with retailers when they’re developing these programs, and I think that’s a good lesson. If you develop a program in isolation, it may not be exactly where the retailer wants it to go,” he says.

“If the purpose of the program is to improve your relationship with the retailers, provide a service to them, and also provide a better product to the consumer in the end, you have to work with those retailers in a partnership arrangement.”

Chapman says for something like the USBP training program to really succeed in Canada, it would likely need to be national in scope due to the current retail landscape here. I agree, and I also think a united effort by the Canadian potato industry would be required to create the right messages and ensure the effective co-operation of all the different players.

Not a small undertaking, to be sure, but certainly something worth thinking about.

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