It’s a word you may have heard in reference to a graceful woman or a vast, fictional universe. But what about the world of retail and the fresh produce categories that make it so grand?
It only took one email from Kathleen Triou, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fresh Solutions Network, to reshape the way I view the constant ebb and flow of trends in the produce department and what it means to truly tap into the potential of a consumer-favorite category.
“I’d love to talk about the importance of defining the potato category of the future, and how to work toward manifesting it,” Kathleen tells me as I pick her brain for the focus of this article. Immediately, I’m as intrigued as I hope you are at this point in our tale.
Upon writing this story, I discovered the word “ethereal,” like many words in the English language, holds a variety of definitions—one of which is tied to chemical science.
I sometimes liken our industry to the subject of chemistry—some may even say it is just as complex. Before we can create compounds or study mixtures, we must first understand the atoms and molecules at work. In the same manner, redefining success for the potato sector requires a firm grasp on its extensive scope and scale.
“Fostering innovation that targets changes in consumer behavior will evolve not only the potato category, but all of produce.”
Kathleen Triou, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fresh Solutions Network
The fresh potato category is fundamental to the performance of the produce department. Over 80 percent of United States households buy them annually*. For comparison, that’s higher than frozen vegetables at 75.9 percent or frozen pizza at 66 percent**. Shoppers spend approximately $3.1 billion a year on fresh potatoes, which is equivalent to nearly 4 billion lbs sold.
“Taking into account the potato category’s importance to the performance of the produce department and its popularity with consumers, it seems a smart business decision to refine the assortment based on the shoppers in the store,” Kathleen explains. “Category core offerings always include bagged and bulk varieties in Russet, red, yellow, and white potatoes, where available. Beyond that, we’ve traditionally seen an assortment that includes organic, petite, and convenience-oriented offerings like microwaveable potatoes. This segment keeps potatoes on the dinner table, kitchen islands, coffee tables, and office desks when a wholesome snack, light meal, or savory side dish is needed.”
As Kathleen emphasizes, the potato category of the future will also include increased fresh-cut options, taking advantage of an array of small kitchen appliances as well as oven and stove-top preparations.
“Real change happens slowly,” she assures. “Fostering innovation that targets changes in consumer behavior will evolve not only the potato category, but all of produce. We need to be asking ourselves, ‘What will the potato category of the future look like, and how do we evolve to get there?’ From my point of view, the category will be dominated by what I call ‘pre’ items.”
What is a ‘pre’ item, you ask? Think pre-cut, pre-cooked, pre-seasoned, or pre-sorted offerings.
“Items that make potato consumption easy, flavorful, nutritious, and quick to cook will be winners in the category in the future. As we look into the crystal ball here, I also see continuing needs for small bags—5 lbs and less—for people who see an inherent value in cooking from scratch or need to make their food dollars go further,” Kathleen shares, laying out a viable hypothesis for the category’s evolution. “Convenience in the form of smaller packages and quick-to-cook items with a range of popular seasonings will drive category growth.”
This is one space where Fresh Solutions Network’s Side Delights® brand already flexes its prowess. With a powerful portfolio of Steamables™, Bakeables™, Grillables™, Flavorables®, A Cut Above® fresh-cut potatoes, and more, the brand harnesses electromagnetism as its superpower.
Creating an undeniable physical phenomenon in which consumers are drawn to its impressive lineup, the provider’s newly designed Side Delights packaging brings a unified look and feel to its popular bags and premium Petites. This approach pulls the category together as a cohesive offering for shoppers, guiding them across each segment to easily find exactly what they are looking for time and time again.
“Almost 50 percent of consumers repurchase potatoes after having a positive experience. Highlighting the features and best uses for each type of potato ensures consumers keep coming back for more,” Kathleen adds. “Our new Side Delights bag leverages this learning by highlighting a ‘best use’ recipe on the back of every bag. With simple 1, 2, 3 cooking instructions on the pack, a positive potato experience is just a few steps away!”
“Items that make potato consumption easy, flavorful, nutritious, and quick to cook will be winners in the category in the future.”
Sharing more observations for the potato sector, Kathleen also points to the importance of consumer education and tapping into shopper trends. Some of the trends currently impacting retail sales include an emphasis on waste reduction, the return to convenience, a shift toward functional food consumption, and sustainability—each providing a unique opportunity to capitalize on this distinct set of demands.
“Education can take several forms: how to cook, recipe inspiration, nutrition information, meal solution ideas, and more,” lists Kathleen. “Inspirational messaging could excite shoppers about the versatility of potatoes, ease of preparation, or the fact that they can please the whole family. This can be done through seasonal secondary displays in conjunction with promotional ads, at-table point-of-sale materials with convenience tips or nutrition messages, or by linking the fresh potato table with the bulk options in the refrigerated section via merchandising and signage.”
These efforts expand beyond the physical grocery store, as retail e-commerce sites and brand websites should be adorned with insights into preparation, recipes, nutrition, and the growers who produce their potatoes.
“A majority of consumers are visiting retailers’ websites even if they are shopping in-store. Since using potatoes as a key ingredient is important, highlighting recipes on grocery websites is a must,” advises Kathleen. “Side Delights has hundreds of inspiring recipes available for use on our website.”
There are no test tubes and beakers necessary when it comes to Fresh Solutions Network’s method of innovation—just skillful insights from timely and relevant consumer and category data and a formidable brand creating healthy, fresh, and flavorful products set to ignite category consumption and generate shopper affinity and trust in the potato category.
And, as Kathleen lays out this intricate, data-based blueprint for catalyzing the category, it’s not hard to picture the Fresh Solutions Network team donning their lab coats and goggles, wielding the elements of retail to spark category alchemy.