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Risking to Rise

Risking to Rise

Innovation is a word we love to use in our industry to discuss what’s new and what we can expect. By definition, to innovate is to make changes in something established, to introduce new methods, ideas, or products we haven’t seen before. I would add that it is the ability to look into the future and figure out how to keep an image or brand fresh.

For many companies out there, innovation is already a part of their strategy, a necessary risk to grow. For others, it is a business better left to the nimble and agile. I believe that risk is inherent to innovation and only the risk-takers will rise. But, what is it about innovation that keeps us constantly chasing after it? Why are we, as an industry, concerned with what comes next or what changes will be coming down the pipeline?

Because consumers demand it.

Consumers are always looking for the next big thing to try, a dish to satisfy their wanderlust, a flavor yet to be explored, a product to be discovered. And companies like Fresh Solutions Network (FSN) with its brand of fresh potatoes, Side Delights®, are on the frontlines, delivering time and time again the convenience, taste, and value shoppers will invest in. For FSN, innovation is as inherent to the Network as growing potatoes.

The potato may have humble origins, but the potential this produce powerhouse delivers is not one to underestimate—especially with President and Chief Executive Officer Kathleen Triou at the helm. Innovation is to be expected at FSN, alongside its other pillars of strength, and I couldn’t wait to dive into this network of growers and suppliers 13-years-young to discover the inner machinations behind the staple category.

Lilian Diep: Kathleen, we saw a major pivot in our industry during the pandemic as consumers shifted from dining out to eating in. Now more than ever, shoppers are on the lookout for easy and healthy ways to get dinner on the table, and Fresh Solutions Network is consistently endeavoring to meet demands from both retailers and shoppers. How does the network maintain its presence in the market?

Kathleen Triou, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fresh Solutions Network: In our Network, we always strive for excellence in three areas we consider critically important to our buyers: customer service, product quality, and innovation.

Customer service is a major pillar of our network because we all know business is better when you like who you are working with.

At FSN, we combine that sentiment with our full grower coverage and dedicated sales support to deliver the best product available 52 weeks a year. We are also attuned to major events year-round so we can provide in-store merchandising support that picks up around the holidays and key sporting events to drive interest and relevance for shoppers every season.

Product quality is another area we focus on. Beyond our adherence to product specs and our established goals to be available all year—part of our recipe for success within the Fresh Solutions Network—our crop growing, harvesting, storage, and transportation approach is rooted in many, many generations of farmer wisdom.

Fresh Solutions Network combines sustainable farming practices—and a little luck—with that wisdom to grow our gorgeous, nutritious potatoes that can satisfy even the pickiest of shoppers.

Lastly, we value innovation. Our focus on making potatoes convenient and interesting for consumers has made us an industry leader in value-added, convenient products. From our six-SKU Side Delights Steamables line to Bakeables®, Roastables®, and Flavorables®, we aim to help consumers include potatoes in their dinner options more frequently.

“In our Network, we always strive for excellence in three areas we consider critically important to our buyers: customer service, product quality, and innovation.”

Kathleen Triou, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fresh Solutions Network

LD: It sounds like those areas are a major driving force for FSN and Side Delights. I know customer service is a central part of any industry, so following through with quality and ingenuity keeps the relationship strong with buyers and customers. With that in mind, how has FSN continued to stay competitive? What strategies did the Network implement in recent years, and throughout the pandemic, to continue meeting these demands?

KT: Most importantly, we take care of our current customers first. We develop and grow our relationship with our customers over time, and that’s including the highs and lows. So, when an unforeseen situation comes up, be it a pandemic or significant weather event that impacts the crop or shipping, we have contingency plans in place to execute for our customers.

Building on our customer-first tenet to enhance our value proposition, our network design is strategic as well: the best farmers in the best growing areas situated in different regions of the country. This distribution of growing and shipping centers, combined with the strength of the network partnerships, is how we stay competitive during both the good and challenging times. Additionally, our Grown Where It Matters promotion is spot on and addresses today’s shoppers’ desires and demands.

Our program offers retailers digital and in-store communications to educate shoppers about the growing regions of Side Delights offerings, allowing them to learn and share the passion our farmers have for growing high-quality products.

LD: With a customer-first mindset, I see how that would translate to going above and beyond what is expected of you, both as growers and as innovators. As we look toward the new year, what are some goals or ambitions FSN will strive to meet in 2022?

KT: We have many! On the farming side, we’re continuing to test new varieties in various soil types all across the country to find the next best potato type for each of our farms. We’re also continuing to invest in artificial intelligence and robotics to enhance our ability to deliver the best potatoes to our customers on schedule and at a competitive price.

Another ambition we have is meeting—nay, exceeding—our environmental standards. As generational farmers, sustainability is very important to us, and we are actively working on launching a new sustainable product package in the future. We’ve seen various packaging versions released this year. While the packaging is definitely headed in the right direction, we are taking a bit more time in research and development to ensure that the right materials, form factor, and marketing strategies are utilized to ensure retail success.

LD: Sounds like an exciting year ahead! With 2021 winding down, I know the Network has some projects in the works to make 2022 a successful year. What can we expect Fresh Solutions Network and Side Delights to innovate next?

KT: At this time, we are currently working on some amazing concepts that we are excited to show to our customers. While I can’t divulge the details yet, I can assure you it will combine our core values: customer service, product quality, and, above all else, innovation. We consistently bring convenient and exciting products to the market, so we cannot wait to showcase our hard work and bring it to fruition.

Having entered the conversation with a plethora of questions, I leave with just as much excitement and intrigue at what’s to come. Once again, our industry has delighted both the consumer and trade writer in me, providing encouragement to keep an eye—and a mind—open to the innovations left to explore.

This past year, we bore witness to how our industry could pivot to meet unprecedented challenges, and the new year is just waiting to witness all that we can bring to the table.

With 2023 as the next finish line, will you be chasing innovation and change alongside me?