The recent run of bad publicity for potatoes may have the industry vexed and wondering if folks recall the spud’s revered place in the hearts and stomachs of Americans.
In recent years, potatoes have been cast by the powers that be as the extra-heavy food that is bound to pack on the pounds.
It is the one vegetable, authorities seem to say, that Americans should eat less of.
Chris Voigt, executive director of the Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission, defied that conventional thinking last year with two months of eating only potatoes, dropping 20 pounds in the bargain.
Like one falsely accused of sinister deeds, the spud is gamely trying to regain the trust of the consumer.
“You know me, don’t you Joe? We grew up together. Think of all of those meat and potato meals through the years, the fries at the burger joint, the chips and dip. You want to throw that away for the sake of some floozy research papers?”
The sharp insults to a food so well loved by Americans in every form seem almost conspiratorial in nature.
Notably, white potatoes were excluded from Women, Infants and Children fruit and vegetable vouchers. Then, potatoes and other starchy vegetables were smacked with limits in the proposed regulation on revised school meal nutrition standards.
Another example of the downer drumbeat came with coverage of the New England Journal of Medicine research. The Wall Street Journal’s headline was “You say potato your scale says uh oh.”
The story led with the hit on potatoes, particularly chips and French Fries but also potatoes in general. For goodness sakes, sweetened beverages got off easy by comparison.
Meanwhile, the news release about the New England Journal of Medicine study said that foods associated with the great weight gains over the 20-year study included potato chips (for each one increased daily serving, +1.69 lb more weight gain every 4 years) and other potatoes (1.28 lb).
Other fresh produce marketers could breathe easier, as the study showed increased consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with less weight gain
What can the industry say to news like that? I found a release in my inbox that sought to defend the potato’s reputation.
From the release: “The Canadian Potato Council (CPC) is challenging the conclusions of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on potatoes and potato consumption, which wrongly depicts potatoes as a hindrance to weight loss and maintaining a healthy body weight.”
The release went on to describe how potatoes are nutrient dense and also challenged the study’s methodology, which the Canadian Potato Council said didn’t control for total calorie intake.
“The (New England Journal of Medicine) study is confusing, as it fails to quantify how an extra serving of any food or beverage will affect your weight. Potatoes are Canada’s number one vegetable, and an extremely healthy, versatile part of our diet,” CPC chairman Keith Kuhl said in the release.
The council’s news release brings up some valid points about the New England Journal of Medicine report, but I wonder if the counter-punch will attract much media attention.
Thinking longer term, it will be interesting to watch to see how potato marketers hone their pitch to consumers. Will the industry focus on health benefits of the spud and run against the media and policy-making grain? Will the industry remind consumers that yes, the potato is a vegetable? Remember the ad with a potato painted green accompanied by the caption, “How far must we go to convince you that the potato is a vegetable?”
Will the campaign hearken to consumers’ emotional response to potatoes? How about promoting the “bang for the buck” that potatoes provide money-tight consumers?
I would think all approaches should be explored, but I think the primary message should be to remind consumers how much they know — and love — potatoes.