Potato board stresses health, convenience, nutrition messages

03/15/2013 03:09:00 PM
Tara Schupner

click image to zoomBree Liscinsky, Nielsen Perishables Group account manager, and Don Ladhoff, U.S. Potato Board retail program consultant present the USPBTara SchupnerBree Liscinsky, Nielsen Perishables Group account manager, and Don Ladhoff, U.S. Potato Board retail program consultant present the USPB's retail outreach efforts during a domestic marketing session at the board's annual meeting March 14 in Colorado Springs.COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Even as it faces a medley of challenges, including the loss of longtime president Tim O’Connor and declining domestic consumption, the U.S. Potato Board is charging full steam ahead with its international outreach and domestic marketing efforts.

President and chief executive officer Tim O’Connor, who is departing the USPB for a new marketing group, Avocados from Mexico, set the tone early at the board’s 40th annual meeting March 14-15 by balancing cautious optimism with bluntness.

“I’m not going to filter this. I’m going to say it as I see it,” he said. “Fries and chips … those are on the hot list for causes of obesity. Every day, there are people who are blaming your products.”

After O’Connor’s presentation, board staff and consultants used breakout sessions — a new format this year — to brief attendees on the board’s efforts in public relations, retail programs, foodservice outreach, consumer advertising and marketing research.

Flavor, freshness, convenience

In each session, presenters stressed the importance of an integrated approach centering around the board’s hypothetical target consumer “Linda,” the wife and mother who makes the decisions about what to buy and cook for her family. Those decisions have changed over the years. Consequently, in order to get “Linda” to cook potatoes more often, the board’s campaign has to not only promote the nutritional qualities of potatoes, but also market quick and easy ways to cook them — a message emphasized across most of the breakout sessions.

“There is an opportunity to be more overt with our healthful messaging, especially among Lindas,” said Kate Thomson, senior research manager with the Sterling-Rice Group. “But health is not the only driver — we need to continue featuring flavor, freshness and convenience as well.”

“Awareness about the nutritional benefits of potatoes is still a struggle, and we’re keeping it at the foremost of our communications,” said Meredith Myers, USPB public relations manager.

The board’s investments in marketing and public relations efforts are well worth the money, Timothy Richards, a researcher at Arizona State University, said during a Friday presentation on the results of a five-year evaluation of the USPB, required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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