With the addition of a new retail consultant this year, the U.S. Potato Board has been able to generate more interest than ever in its retail programs.

The Denver-based board hired Don Ladhoff as retail consultant in March. Since his appointment, enrollment in all three programs, including the Best in Class and Best Practices, is up, said Kathleen Triou, vice president of domestic marketing.

The USPB’s Retail Outreach Program — in which gives a one-hour presentation about potato category best practices, the retail partner’s competitive landscape and potato consumers — has 15 retailers participating this year, Triou said, up from 10 last year. The board has also expanded the program to encompass club stores, mass merchandisers and specialty retailers.

“We’re trying to bring them information about the shopper and trying to bring them research about how our target consumer plans her shopping trips, how she shops the store and how she uses potatoes after she purchases them,” Ladhoff said. “We do a business review of their business and competitive businesses in the market they’re in, and we spot opportunities and make recommendations about how they can address those opportunities.”

The board also uses the opportunity to let them know how they can leverage the USPB’s support for the category, including its advertising, online promotions, and public relations outreach. Ladhoff said the meetings always run longer than they are scheduled for and there is a lot of follow-up.

The board started its Best in Class program in 2004, a three-year program that current has three retailers enrolled. Triou said only one of those partners has been involved for more than a year, so they will continue to be involved for at least two more.

Through the program, the board advises and works with the retailers on assortment, promotion, packaging, pricing, merchandising and communication.

The board’s Best Practice Partner program is a nine-month program that takes a deeper look into one aspect of selling potatoes.

“A Best Practices Partner is someone who wants to work more in depth on one of these things,” Ladhoff said. “We have openings for four Best Practices Partners now.”

Ladhoff said the board uses its Test and Learn program to pilot new best practices to share with the industry. This year it is in motion with three Test and Learn topics, including the effect of secondary potato displays outside the produce department, the profit impact of associate education and shopper messaging.

“All of that fuels future best practices, so we can tell retailers and the industry here’s an effective way to improve performance in your potato category,” Ladhoff said. “This past year we tested a fixture with one chain and a new merchandising approach, so we’ve almost since our inception of having a retail program, we have been testing and implementing the results that show they’re successful.”

Information about the board’s retail programs is available at its recently launched Retailer Portal at www.potatoretailer.com, which went up in September. Visitors to the site are welcomed with a video of Cheryl Koompin, the board’s chairman, talking about how to put together a quick dinner with potatoes.

“The intent was to bring all of the USPB tools that a retailer would find valuable and bring them together and make them available in one place,” Ladhoff said. “We have information that was in different places on our own uspotatoes.com site, and we wanted to make it kind of a very easy, separate entrance for retailers to go into.”

The site also has links to recent articles about potatoes, merchandising tools, online training, public relations materials, research studies and other resources.

Consumer target

The board is tweaking its target market, honing in on a more specific group.

It announced its broad target market, which it refers to as “Linda,” at its 2009 annual meeting. Linda is a 25- to 54-year-old female head of the household with children at home.

With preliminary results from recent research, the board is narrowing that market to a woman less than 40 years old with kids ages 5 to 12 at home, Triou said.

“We’re still on target of moms with kids, but they’re a little younger than what we thought,” Triou said. “It’s a tighter target than we’ve had in the past.”

Ladhoff said by having more information on how Linda behaves, he’ll be able to take a more granular approach with retailers to really help them fine-tune their potato category.

With the new target market comes fresh ads, which the board was testing with focus groups late September. It plans to have new ads for consumer publications by the end of the year.

The board plans on placing those ads in a few new consumer publications this year. Its ads should appear in Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens and Parents magazines this year.

“We have negotiated hard for additional ad space so we can expand the scope of our exposure,” Triou said. “What most moms are doing is reading these publications during their little bit of ‘me time,’ and we want to continually be in that place.”

The campaign gets more than 22 million impressions, reaching about 57% of the board’s target market, Triou said. Its ads highlight potatoes’ health benefits, affordability and taste, Triou said.

In addition to its retail and consumer outreach, the board is also trying to better communicate with its own members. It is putting transcripts from meetings, training materials and more on its website so that growers don’t need to travel to hear the information and can watch it at their leisure, especially during the busy season.