(Dec. 18) Since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, foodservice sales have dropped, hurting a lucrative market for potatoes.

Some people who dined at fine restaurants are now eating at casual restaurants, and some who ate casual are now going for fast food, said Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice at the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise, Idaho.

“People are still going out to eat, but the average check price is significantly lower,” Odiorne said.

EASING STRESS

According to recent reports, many people are returning to comfort foods — foods that help ease the stress they’ve felt since the attacks. Potatoes are in this category, he said.

“We find that people are not going out to try new things but to socialize and be with friends. They want foods they can count on,” he said.

Ongoing commission programs target operators. The commission offers incentives and recipe contests. More than 7,500 foodservice operations on an annual basis offer menu items inspired by the merchandising events.

One promotion was “Mashed in the USA.” It featured a potato bar with mashed potatoes instead of the usual baked spuds at residence hall dining facilities at the University of Miami. The promotion was successful and very popular with students and faculty, Odiorne said.

SPUDS TO GO

Potatoes can be a take-away food, he said. Some students took mashed potatoes from the bar to their rooms. This demonstrates potatoes as a convenient food for people on the go, he said.

Foodservice is an important arena for new products and launching of preparation concepts. Garlic mashed potatoes, yukon golds, purple flesh and fingerling potatoes are successful examples, said Tim O’Connor, president of chief executive officer of the National Potato Promotion Board, Denver.

Potato processors are offering a number of new, convenience-oriented potato products to foodservice operators. The products are designed to reduce preparation time and storage requirements.

MENU APPEAL

Some foodservice operators find these products appealing, while others will continue to value fresh potatoes’ contributions to their menus, O’Connor said.

“The Potato Board’s foodservice program is limited but is focused on presenting exciting and enticing new potato recipes and meal concepts,” O’Connor said.

The North Carolina Potato Association Inc., Elizabeth City, N.C., conducts a foodservice sales incentive contest, said Tommy Fleetwood, an agricultural marketing specialist at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Raleigh, N.C.

INCREASING AWARENESS

The association provides funds for foodservice companies in the state to use to reward their salespeople who move the most North Carolina potatoes. The association also provides restaurants with table tents to increase awareness of North Carolina potatoes.

The Washington State Potato Commission, Moses Lake, Wash., is working with chefs in Seattle to promote the use of potatoes in recipes, said Karen Bonaudi, public affairs and media director.
“We are hoping to get many of the recipes photographed and published in consumer magazines,” she said.