Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Potatoes suffer image problem

Potatoes have a bad image with too many Ontario consumers.

That’s one of the most important findings of a survey of 835 consumers undertaken by the Value Chain Management Centre and George Mitges & Associates, both of them working for the Ontario Potato Board.

But nobody seems concerned about prices.

The survey identified three distinct consumer groups.

The two largest ones, accounting for 70 per cent of shoppers, don’t know much about potatoes, but don’t consider them a healthy food.

They also find them more difficult to prepare than competing products, such as rice and pasta.

The largest segment of consumers, 39 per cent, are described as “time starved and health conscious”.

The second-largest segment, 31 per cent, are “convenience driven”.

The third segment, 14 per cent, puts high priority on health and wellness and is made up mainly of women of which a higher percentage are immigrants and living alone.

Sixteen per cent were in tiny segments too small to lump into a distinct category.

The report to the potato board says “the majority of the population likes potatoes and views them as offering good value for money, but they do not consider potatoes to be healthy or convenient.

“Nor do most consumers understand what potatoes to use when preparing specific recipes, which leads to dissatisfaction due to poor performance.

“Attributes for which segments of the population are prepared to pay include potatoes differentiated by appearance, taste, and fit for use.

“Addressing this gap in consumer demands and improving consumers’ perceptions of fresh potatoes has been the primary driver of numerous successful marketing initiatives undertaken elsewhere in the world.

“Ontario’s industry can undoubtedly learn from these initiatives, some of which could be replicated here with relative ease.”

The next stage of the study will involve a close look at producers, packagers and retailers to determine how costs might be reduced and revenues increased.

Loblaws and Downey Farms are involved with the potato board in the study.

Now, let me add a few comments based on what my wife, who is an excellent cook, says.

She's willing to pay a premium to get what she wants, but isn't able to find it.

What's available here is packages with inconsistent sizes and too many cuts, bruises and defects.

She liked Green Giant potatoes when they were coming from the United States, and she always bought them - until they began to be sourced from Ontario. She no longer buys them because they are not enough better to warrant the premium price.

She does use alternatives, such as orzo, pasta and rice. She would use more potatoes if she could find and identify the quality she wants.