Last week I asked a grower what his number one concern was in the industry today. His answer surprised me. Expecting to hear about maturity issues, seed rot, low potential yield due to sodden fields, or the effects of the economic turmoil of the past two years, I was interested to hear he was most concerned about decreasing potato consumption.
This sentiment is echoed across the industry and the country by growers, processors, packers, and industry professionals involved in supplying potatoes for consumption. A number of factors are responsible for this downward trend, such as smaller family units, an increasing number of alternative food choices, and misconceptions about the nutritional value of the potato.
There is good news—in 2009, according to Statistics Canada, the amount of potatoes in the diet rose by 1.4% to 27.9 kg per person. This is the first increase since 2001. And there’s more—according to a recent study, Canadians believe potatoes are good food. This seems a simple statement, but we’ve come a long way in two decades in repairing the damage of the low-carb diet fad to the potato industry. Finally the perception of the nutritional value of the potato is being corrected and this is very promising news.
As you know, here in Canada, we grow great potatoes. What can be done to build on the positive trend we’re already witnessing, thereby increasing the rate of consumption? Our feature stories for this issue indicate education, marketing, and promotion are three areas on which to focus in order to increase the rate at which Canadians choose the potato over a growing number of food options.
Our provincial and national associations are actively working on these three areas. In March, a resolution was passed by the Canadian Horticultural Council for the formation of a task force to address the issues surrounding the consumption rate of potatoes in Canada. The group, represented by association members from each growing region, will come together this fall with the hope of increasing the overall rate of consumption. Also, the CHC will lobby Health Canada to ensure potatoes are included with other vegetables and fruits in the health claim that a variety of vegetables and fruits may help reduce the risk of some types of cancers. Currently, the Health Canada regulation B.01.603 under the Food and Drug Act excludes the potato by name from health claim #4 mentioned above.
Recently, Spud Smart relaunched its web site with a fresh, user-friendly, and interactive platform devoted to providing the potato industry with the latest in news and research, interesting features on the industry, and audio podcasts of industry experts, all with the hope of facilitating solutions to the challenges—such as consumption rate—the industry faces. We would like to become a hub for connecting industry professionals for the education, promotion, and marketing of potatoes. If you have any ideas on how to get more Canadians reaching for spuds, please e-mail [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you!
By Kari Belanger