By JOHN O'CONNELL
As in the United States, the U.S. Potato Board has found Mexican men tend to fancy themselves as grill masters, even if they don't always take pride in being kings of their kitchens.
Though Mexican men haven't historically been USPB's target audience, officials with the organization believe they've found a formula for getting the population to add spuds to the shopping cart -- moving potato displays to the meat section.
The promotion in Mexico was among the many efforts to increase U.S. spud demand in foreign markets highlighted by USPB's international representatives during a recent meeting in San Francisco. John Toaspern, USPB's vice president of international marketing, said 28 people attended the meeting, including representatives from the organization's 12 foreign offices, to plan for the new marketing year that began July 1.
USPB contracts with firms in Vietnam, Thailand, Malasia, Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Mexico and Central America to represent its interests abroad.
In Mexico, USPB worked with a grocery store chain to display U.S. Russets by grilling meats, along with recipes for grilling spuds. The campaign started in May and finished at the end of June.
"Supermarkets were pleased, and volumes were up," Toaspern said.
USPB offered the grocer its expertise and suggestions, but no funding for the program. Toaspern said the chain may continue the practice to boost sales, and USPB can present the data to other chains.
Another focus of USPB's international program is developing a recipe brochure featuring ways to use dehydrated potatoes in nontraditional manners, often as an ingredient rather than a stand-alone side dish. Toaspern said USPB has invested $60,000 to develop the book, hiring the food marketing contractor Ketchum to come up with additional dehydrated recipes for the brochure, which will be distributed to food service outlets and restaurants in the USPB's foreign markets.
In Asian countries, for example, Toaspern said dehydrated potatoes are blended with vegetables as filler for mashed potato and vegetable salad sandwiches. Another suggestion in the brochure entails filling a martini glass with a scoop of mashed potatoes, decorated with various toppings, for up-scale receptions. The brochure will be released at the end of summer.
"Our (foreign) representatives will hold seminars and trainings and trade shows and visit restaurants," Toaspern said.
The foreign trade representatives comprise a small part of USPB's broader international marketing program, which operates on a $10 million budget.
Toaspern has been pleased with growth in international markets for potatoes. Though end-of-year numbers won't be released until early September, he said the U.S. industry has averaged 8 percent annual growth in foreign exports for the past five years, and roughly 18 percent of the U.S. crop is now exported.
"I expect it to be about that this year," Toaspern said.