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Marketing Potatoes: Our Shared Responsibility and Combined Benefit

Back a generation or two ago when seemingly every North American home bought potatoes by the 20 lb bag and variety options were limited, marketing potatoes was straightforward: grocers simply put potatoes on their shelves and customers bought them. Instant access to information, hugely expanded grocery options, and a burgeoning number of potato types, sizes and end-uses, however, means potato marketing today is a critical, complicated priority that the entire value chain needs to engage in.

Grocery stores today carry more starch options than ever before. Fighting amongst ourselves for consumer dollars, thereby cannibalizing each other’s sales, will not build long-term market share. If, instead, we work cooperatively to promote and educate, we can pull back some of the traction we’ve lost to rice, noodles and other starches.

In our information-centric reality, marketing now depends heavily on education and transparency rather than traditional, sales-y advertising. Gaining and retaining customer interest demands industry not only provide information about a product’s uses and care, but also to its health benefits, its history and its origin. In short, customers want a product’s entire ‘story’ from farm to table.

Because customers’ information expectations have grown so large, so quickly, the agriculture industry as a whole tends to be a step behind in meeting these new demands. Every member of the potato value chain has a vital role to play in catching up. Meeting consumers’ information demands should be viewed as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience, since education is the single best way to gain advocates and buyers.

Urban Canadians are now, on average, at least two generations away from farming life. Given that physical and intellectual separation from farming, it’s hardly surprising than a huge percentage of people today no longer understand where their food comes from or how it is produced. Without this innate understanding, consumers today can be swayed in any direction with misinformation.

If our industry works together to promote potatoes by educating consumers, we have the potential to correct all kinds of misconceptions. Potato producers need to more actively share key messages about sustainability and their environmental practices; variety companies like us need to talk hard science about breeding and variety improvement efforts; the entire industry needs to share potatoes’ nutrition information and health-promoting attributes. Intentional openness will build informed consumers and ultimately build our industry too.

As a potato variety marketing company, we have no direct access to consumers. Yet, like every other part of the potato value chain, our business depends on our industry successfully selling more potatoes. We need to step forward and accept equal responsibility for attaining that marketing goal. In today’s information-is-king reality, that means sharing our information with our core customers so that our information can become part of the total package passed along to customers.

We are very pleased that many in our industry are already actively operating according to this new marketing mentality. At tradeshows and in grocery stores, in magazines and in social media, members of our industry at all levels of our value chain are starting important and open conversations with their customers. We encourage you to be part of the discussion!

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