Marketing Gets Fresh

Marketers and growers are working to find fresh ways of filling the plate with spuds.

In recent years, there has been a steady decline in the number of fresh potatoes that find their way to the Canadian dinner table. It’s a complicated problem, one the country’s potato marketers are prepared to tackle through increasingly sophisticated and innovative approaches. But first, they are working to fully understand what the consumer wants.

Joe Brennan, a potato grower and chair of the board of Potatoes New Brunswick, says recent U.S. consumer surveys show a good-sized portion of the decline in sales is due to the decreasing number of sit-down, pass-the-potatoes-please meals that modern families eat, and an increase in one-dish meals such as pizza and pasta. More exotic cooking trends and the low-carb crazes of the past decade also haven’t helped the situation.

Breeders and marketers have tried for years to overcome the challenge of selling potatoes to time-pressed families. Consider, for example, the microwaveable potato: Brennan has talked to U.S. growers who note that while it has helped, it hasn’t taken off the way industry had hoped it would.

“There are a number of things that have been tried, but there hasn’t been a home run. None have unlocked the secret to big sales,” Brennan says.

The secret, it seems, may have as much to do with style as substance.

Last year, the P.E.I Potato Board caught consumers’ attention with a contest that carried a buyer from in-store intrigue to online engagement. Called “Pack Your Appetite,” the promotion offered a chance to win prizes by visiting a web site and entering the unique code found on every bag of P.E.I potatoes. The contest, a collaboration with Tourism P.E.I and the P.E.I. Department of Agriculture, drew 114,000 entries to the web site—51,000 unique visitors—to compete for grand prize culinary trips as well as weekly prizes of grocery gift certificates (with which, of course, winners could buy more potatoes).

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