USPB to study food service, consumer segmentation

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

The U.S. Potato Board will study the poorly understood food service industry in depth this fiscal year, leaders say.

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — The U.S. Potato Board will conduct two studies in Fiscal Year 2015 delving into the domestic food service market, a broad category the organization’s leaders say hasn’t been adequately researched and remains poorly understood.

USPB has added a food service sizing study to its research list to ascertain the scope of the domestic food service industry and will contract with the Colorado-based Sterling-Rice group for roughly $20,000 to complete the work.

“For the restaurant chains and the distributors and the processors, trying to figure out those numbers is really difficult because there’s no public record,” said John Toaspern, USPB’s chief marketing officer.

During USPB’s summer meeting in Jackson Hole, growers unanimously approved another research project, called a consumer segmentation study, that will answer additional questions about both retail and food service customers, including who they are and the purchasing power they possess. Toaspern said the $130,000 needed to add the segmentation study to the list will come from $300,000 in allocated funds that weren’t spent by the domestic marketing program in FY 2014.

“This consumer segmentation study is a very robust study that is needed by the industry,” Toaspern said, adding it will be a one-time project that won’t affect future budgets. “It will be age-based, demographic-based, male and female and all different sectors.”

Chris Wada, a USPB Domestic Marketing Committee co-chairman and Executive Committee member from Wada Farms in Eastern Idaho, believes the consumer data will be crucial for the organization’s long-term planning efforts.

“Currently, the focus has been on Linda,” Wada said, referring to a composite consumer who represents USPB’s target audience — 25- to 54-year-old women with children living at home. “This will give us the ability to expand that out to what’s the most impactful audience.”

Wada also notes consumers copy food service trends when they cook at home, ultimately affecting retail sales.

“The domestic marketing side of the food service industry has definitely had a much smaller budget, and there are some opportunities there,” Wada said.

Toaspern said USPB has also added a new media habits study for FY 15 to help guide its increasing emphasis on digital communication.

“There’s a ton of research out there on online behavior. We’re going to start by gleaning out of that, then drill down to the type of people we’re trying to reach and what their behaviors are,” Toaspern said.

Most studies from the last fiscal year will continue unchanged, including a potato attitudes and usage study and studies into retail purchases.

To save $30,000, USPB scaled back its national eating trends study, opting to obtain basic information rather than taking “a deeper dive.” The organization has also scratched a planned pantry inventory study.

In its international budget, Toaspern said USPB spent $225,000 below its budget last fiscal year. In Jackson Hole, the growers approved $90,000 of that carryover to complete work on the USPB international website,, wrap up efforts to share messages about dehydrated potatoes and to design a large bag for shipping dehydrated potato granules in international food aid.

Toaspern said USPB’s domestic and international marketing budgets both exceed $5 million.


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