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27 June 2014|Arable

A fresh challenge: addressing the volume decline


The value of fresh potato category is growing with a 3.8% rise over the last year, while the volume of fresh potatoes sold has dropped by 8.0% (Kantar WorldPanel 52 w/e 25 May 2014). In order to understand what has driven the volume decline and determine ways in which to address the situation, Potato Council has commissioned new research by Kantar WorldPanel LinkQ, which shows that, for the majority of shoppers, the decision to reduce purchase is unconscious.

The research, which is presented in a new report ‘A Fresh Challenge; addressing the volume decline’ looked at purchasing behaviour and how consumers think and feel about potatoes. In particular it focused on those who were buying fewer potatoes (at least 20% year-on-year) and compared their views with those who were buying the same or more¹ to determine how the industry could respond. Over 1,850 consumers were polled, giving a robust sample to understand shopper behaviour.

Comparing actual purchasing with what consumers think they are buying brought out a key finding – that 90% of those who are buying at least 20% fewer potatoes thought they were buying the same amount or more. That means the decision not to purchase is largely unconscious – there is no active rejection of the potato category.

Caroline Evans, head of marketing and corporate affairs, commented: “An unconscious decision not to purchase presents both opportunities and challenges for the industry when it comes to fighting back against the volume decline. It means there is no specific issue we need to address – for example health or price. Instead the focus is on ensuring that potatoes are front-of-mind for shoppers, particularly in store.”

The research sought to understand how the attitudes of those who were buying less were different from those likely to be buying more. The challenge centres around connotations of convenience which, to shoppers, means easy-to-cook and prepare. This is coupled with the fact that those who are eating fewer potatoes want a greater variety of carbohydrates in their diet and so act on this by buying a large than average number.

Potato prices have risen considerably at retail, up more than a third in the last year. Price is always an important issue for shoppers; however, the research suggests that it’s not a major concern for the majority. Those who have decreased their purchasing are marginally less likely to think the price has increased (71% versus 69%), with the majority thinking that it has increased a little. There is a small group in the decrease segment who are more aware of price and more likely to buy on promotion.

Caroline added: “Potatoes are a staple food and price tends to be less of a concern for shoppers – that said, everyone is looking for good value-for-money. We need to make sure we position potatoes as an easy choice which can be a good value base for meals.”

With this knowledge base, Potato Council has developed an action plan based on the research to look at how industry can fight back. Priority areas are:

• Focus on convenience: a combination of product innovation and communicating that potatoes can be quick and easy-to-cook (30 minute meals are ideal).
• Promote the nutritional benefits: use packaging and promotional campaigns to generate widespread awareness of the many health benefits of potatoes. Plus remind shoppers that potatoes are tasty, not simply a base for healthy meals.
• Use shopper signposting: engage shoppers at the fixture, interrupting their normal behaviour and encouraging them to reconsider potatoes. Use cooked dish imagery on pack and in promotional literature to reconnect them with the end product.
• Increase the number of potato dishes in the weekly meal repertoire: this can be simply done by inspiring shoppers with new recipe ideas.
• Unite as an industry to address the issues: pushing out consistent messages about the benefits of potatoes will help move the category forward. Potato Council has been presenting the research to major retailers with their suppliers.

Caroline concluded: “The research demonstrates just how essential it is to shake consumers out of a state of inertia when it comes to buying potatoes. They need inspiration and guidance - both at the fixture and in the home - in the form of recipe ideas and advice on how to prepare quick and easy potato meals that are packed full of goodness and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

“Clearly it is more important than ever that industry works together to put out positive, consistent messages about potatoes and put a stop to the decline in consumption. We will be sharing the detailed research findings with industry over the coming weeks in order to help them address the issues.”

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