Potato Board plans national push in 2004

Denver: The US Potato Board is planning a major national campaign in 2004 to encourage consumption of potatoes in light of consumers' changing tastes and weight consciousness.

Denver: The US Potato Board is planning a major national campaign in 2004 to encourage consumption of potatoes in light of consumers' changing tastes and weight consciousness.

Board officials and members met last week with representatives from its PR agencies to review research on consumer attitudes toward potatoes, and discuss possible messages for next year's campaign.

"We're trying to figure out what messages we can take to the consumer," said Tim O'Connor, president and CEO of the board, which was formed in 1971 to promote potato

consumption.

The industry faces major challenges brought on by demographic shifts and changing consumer attitudes about nutrition and diet.

The industry's mainstay consumer product has been 10-pound bags of potatoes. But with many US households today composed of only one or two people, that product is no longer relevant. As a result, the industry has been experimenting with new retail and merchandising concepts, O'Connor said.

More than half the annual US potato crop is used for making French fries and potato chips. With increasing concerns about obesity and the poor eating habits of Americans, those

products are facing challenges of their own.

And Potato Board research has found that even when it comes to regular potatoes, "there is a group of women who think potatoes are related to weight gain" because they contain carbohydrates, O'Connor noted.

In meetings last week, the Potato Board was "looking at development of consumer messages based on nutrition that is credible," O'Connor said.

St. Louis-based Osborn & Barr was hired to "help us refine our communications to the potato growers," O'Connor explained. "We wanted to make sure we were communicating as best we could to the industry about these complex issues."

Next year's campaign will include messages for growers, retailers, food-service operators, and consumers. The board hopes to develop messages that retailers and restaurants can

use at the store level as well, O'Connor said.

The Board uses Fleishman-Hillard for consumer PR and Ketchum for food-service PR.

It recently hired Osborn & Barr to work on grower PR.

"My goal has been to get as much talent together as we can," O'Connor said about his agency lineup.

All three agencies will be involved in next year's effort, O'Connor said. It has not been determined how much will be spent on the campaign, but "it will be as major an effort

as the industry has ever launched," he said.

The Board expects to have messages developed by mid-October, and kick off the new campaign in January.

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