At a Fort Collins, Colo., grocery store, Kristin Mastre paused for a minute in front a large bin of Russet and red potatoes. She picked out a few handfuls and continued on, her two boys, Carter, 4, and Logan, 7, in tow.
“Today is definitely a staples kind of day,” Mastre said, pointing to the potatoes in her shopping cart. Mastre, who does nearly all the cooking and grocery shopping for her family, is a big potato consumer.
But across the country, people are eating fewer potatoes. Talk with a potato grower and they’ll blame the anti-carb diet crazes that gained popularity a decade ago. To reverse the trend, the potato industry is reworking the vegetable’s image, targeting shoppers like Mastre and steering people away from french fries and toward healthier options.
“Right at the beginning of 2000 the low-carb craze hit,” said Meredith Myers, a spokeswoman for the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, the group spearheading the marketing and advertising effort to convince consumers like Mastre to eat more potatoes. “All the numbers show, attitudes started declining about potato nutrition. Although the low-carb craze peaked in about 2004 those attitudes lingered."
To combat the negative perception, the Potato Board is pumping about $4 million each year into print ads and social media campaigns to reach their ideal consumer, a portion of the market they’ve dubbed “Linda.” The “Linda” target market profile aims for mothers who enjoy cooking for their families and includes a mix of demographic characteristics and psychological attitudes and impulses.
Like Kristin Mastre, “Lindas” already use potatoes when cooking, Myers said, so “to convince Kristin that there is reason to put potatoes on the table one more time a week -- it’s not a hard sell.”
The Potato Board wants to use the print ads and recipes on popular social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook to get a few more potatoes in the shopping basket. They’re focusing on “Linda” because she has influence. Like Mastre, “Linda” cooks almost all of her family’s meals and, just as importantly, decides what ends up in the shopping cart.
“Reaching out to Linda you’re effectively reaching out and impacting about a third of the population,” said Kate Thomson, a market analyst with Sterling Rice Group, a research and advertising firm in Boulder, Colo.
Thomson created the “Linda” profile and says there are about 35 million women that fit the description in the U.S. They make food decisions and recommendations for close to 120 million others, including husbands, children, extended family members and peers. Lots of food companies, from MillerCoors to California almond growers, have profiles for their target consumers.
Thomson said locating and delving into what drives the “Linda” audience was essential for the potato industry, especially as the Potato Board works to rebrand potatoes as a healthy option, and they’re going after all types of consumers. Thomson said while many people associate a certain customer with the “Linda” profile, it’s actually a wide and varied group of women.
“A ‘Linda’ could be that white, married, suburban soccer mom, but she could also be a Hispanic single mom, who’s working, living in an urban area,” Thomson said.
While this new marketing effort is in response to a larger trend, the potato industry is facing an even bigger challenge this year. A glut of fresh potatoes has caused the price to plummet to its lowest level since 2004.
That raises the stakes even higher and focuses potato growers on “Linda” even more hotly.