15 September 2000

Meeting customer needs key to maintaining sales

Potato growers, breeders, researchers and trade gathered in

Holland last week for the World Potato Congress and Potato

2000 events. Andrew Swallow describes what was on offer

POTATO sales are increasingly value rather than price driven, which means quality more than quantity is the future for the industry, says the BPC.

Presenting a paper on product differentiation at last weeks World Potato Congress in Amsterdam, BPC general manager Nigel Jupe told delegates that meeting customer needs was the key to maintaining fresh potato sales.

"Those needs are not what we instinctively think they are. Take price for example: a decreasing proportion of income is spent on food and the UK evidence is that price is no longer a big factor."

Providing potatoes in a way that makes it easy for the customer to achieve their aims is the goal. That may be as a punnet of a variety such as Anya when entertaining, washed bakers for an easy, health conscious meal, or a standard 2.5kg pre-pack to provide the staple for family meals.

"The issue is not how we differentiate the potatoes. It is how we differentiate a customer need," he said. That cannot be left to the retailer alone (see panel).

But supermarket sales are not everything. After 20 years of growth the evidence is that the multiples market share is levelling off at about 80% of fresh sales by value.

Future market growth is likely to be from leisure outlets, be that restaurants or other leisure areas where food is an additional attraction, such as cinemas or sports venues. Travel food is also seen as a key area.

Many such outlets require processed potatoes. But whether growers are supplying processors or supermarkets, developing very close links with their immediate customer is the key to retaining a reasonable share of the retail value of the end product, said Mr Jupe.

MARKETINGMESSAGES

&#8226 Grow for specific uses.

&#8226 Know what customer wants.

&#8226 Price less important.

&#8226 Close communications key.

&#8226 Consistency vital.

Increasing the value of potatoes is all about identifying customer needs, says BPCs Nigel Jupe.

BPC research

Increasing the industrys knowledge of what consumers want is the aim of a fundamental market research project being conducted by the BPC. "Supermarkets are pushing more of the decision making down the supply chain and what consumers really want is not necessarily what the supermarkets say they want," said Mr Jupe. In recent months focus group studies, in-store interviews and off the street research data has been collected, and a model of how consumers think about potatoes when shopping is being built. Results will be reported in November.