Growers have been urged to think more about promotion and place to drive demand for differentiated potato products, instead of focusing on product and price.

Addressing delegates from around the globe at the World Potato Congress in Edinburgh, Herman Verveld, commercial director and sector manager of Retail Fresh HZPC in The Netherlands, said growers needed a mentality change to maximise returns.

“To be market led you need to find out what the consumer wants, and then satisfy that need. We have to ask ourselves, are we doing that as an industry?

“Based on market research, consumers are asking for a good, consistent taste which is achieved by correct variety choice and good production practices. Growers that aim solely for yield need to change their behaviour to meet these demands,” said Mr Verveld.

There are also issues of poor promotion for the potato on shop floors, points out Mr Verveld, with plain, uninformative packaging for fresh potatoes vastly different to other products.

“People make a decision in a few seconds when approaching the shop display, so we need to make sure that we are tempting consumers to buy our products with sophisticated packaging. It needs to be more than just a stack of plain bags,” said Mr Verveld.

The commoditisation of the potato is something that producers in the US are trying to address, with the industry historically selling high volumes of generic product and not differentiating.

“All the growth in the USA is down to different varieties, with the Russet potato in decline and only being held up by the processing sector,” said Albert Wada, director of Wada Farms in Idaho.

“The larger retailers are demanding these new varieties, which does make our operation more complex. We have had to invest in different packing lines, but we have to respond to consumers.”

Wada Farms are also providing more offerings in convenience foods, such as microwavable bags and foil wrapped BBQ bakers, aiming to get more fresh potatoes on the dinner table and adding further value to its raw materials.

“Today, if you want to be something beyond just another supplier to your customer you should begin to provide value added-services.

“Operational excellence, matching supply and demand and innovation in packaging, marketing and new varieties are key aspects to remaining economically sustainable into the future,” added Mr Wada.

UK perspective

Asda category director for produce, Rick Bourne, also sees future growth in the UK using new, innovative ways of packing and presenting potatoes.

“As a potato grower, if you are at either end of the potato market, processed or raw, there is no growth in those sectors.

“Understanding the consumer’s lifestyle, what they are doing and how they are doing it will give growers customer insight and allow them to find products in the middle ground where there is room to expand,” said Mr Bourne.

“Fresh potatoes have 65% of the market share in the UK and we can’t let that slip, so innovation and imagination is needed to create more demand for our product, allowing growers to remain sustainable.”