Potato industry battles declining demand

Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

The potato industry is looking at ways to meet consumer needs in order to address declining consumption trends.

SPOKANE — The potato industry will promote unusual sizes, shapes and colors of potatoes — and their healthful benefits — as growers and marketers try to reverse a downward trend in consumer demand.

Per-capita consumption has been decreasing since the 1990s at a rate of 1 percent per year, said Jeff Bragg, vice president of Meijer North America, which operates grocery stores in the Midwest.

Bragg was one of several speakers during a utilization and marketing symposium at the Potato Association of America meeting in Spokane.

“Potatoes are suffering from the ‘three B blight’ — big, bland and boring,” said Angela Santiago, CEO and co-founder of The Little Potato Co. in Edmonton, Alberta. “You put a regular potato on a plate, and nobody’s getting too excited. We need to make potatoes interesting again, we need to get people excited.”

Consultant and University of Idaho emeritus professor Joseph Guenthner said consumption has decreased due to the perception that potatoes are unhealthful and a lack of convenience in potato products.

Bragg shared a stack of food and health magazines to demonstrate that there were very few articles talking about potatoes or potato recipes.

“Potatoes are one of the leading causes for obesity, and they are zero percent fat — that does not make a lot of sense to me,” Bragg said.

Guenthner said the industry needs to determine how to find its way into the stomachs of American consumers.

He cited recent developments, like the use of fresh-cut potatoes for fries and advertising which farm the fries came from at the Five Guys hamburger chain and Potato Flats, a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, that serves a potato bar meal atop a flattened potato.

Santiago said the consumer market has less home cooking and fewer home cooking skills, higher interest in convenience and fresh nutrition options. Consumers are also looking for smaller sizes and a small environmental footprint, she said.

Her company developed new potato products using smaller, creamer potatoes, fingerlings and blue and purple potatoes. The products include microwave-ready and grill-ready kits.

“There are thousands of potato varieties, shapes, sizes, colors and tastes that North Americans have never experienced before,” Santiago said. “Consumers want to see new and interesting products, and we’re committed to delivering.”

Santiago said the biggest difficulty has been having enough inventory to meet the high demand for her company’s offerings.

Bragg compared the many varieties of potatoes to the varieties of wine, apples and table grapes.

“They’re all being written about, described and enjoyed,” he said. “Potatoes are the health food of the present and the future, and we don’t get it out. We have a big opportunity ahead of us.”

Santiago’s company uses a three-pronged approach — exposure, excitement and education.

“We want to get in front of as many people as we can, through as many channels as we strategically can manage,” she said. “We see a future where potatoes are again full of flavor, bursting with nutrition and the centerpiece of every wholesome meal.”

Online

Potato Association of America: http://potatoassociation.org

Meijer: www.meijer.com

The Little Potato Company: www.littlepotatoes.com

Potato Flats: www.potatoflats.com



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