Mac Johnson hesitates to call the Fresh Demand Working Group’s upcoming initiatives in short-term potato promotion a marketing plan. At least, not in the traditional sense.

Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Category Partners, Denver, prefers the term, “shorter-term shopper-marketing activity” for the promotions, which Fresh Demand is launching in a four-city test run beginning in October.

“It’s a relatively limited test in four markets at this point,” Johnson said of the ad hoc First Demand Working Group’s first-ever project. “It’s a shopper marketing approach. Most activities take place in store, but there also will be tie-ins online.”

The goal, Johnson said, is to increase short-term demand for potatoes. Only, the plan is not for a typical short-term period of one or two weeks. That would be too easy, Johnson said. Just drop prices on ad. No, the targeted period for this initiative, he said, is six to eight weeks.

The plan, which will be put before shoppers in Buffalo, N.Y., Jacksonville, Fla., St. Louis and Portland, Ore., from October through mid-November, will include what Johnson called “floor talkers,” big decals advertising potatoes that will be placed on the floors of local supermarkets, as well as “shelf talkers,” boxes that distribute promotions such as recipe ideas, at point of purchase.

“And, we’re going to do a lot of cross-merchandising,” Johnson said. “We’ll have floor talkers about potatoes in front of sour cream in the dairy section.”

Other elements will include mail-in rebates and free-standing inserts in newspapers on days when supermarkets are placing inserts.

Johnson said the Fresh Demand Working Group, which includes potato growers/shippers around the U.S., also has engaged Sandra Lee, a celebrity chef on the Food Network, to be featured in the point-of-purchase materials and in online materials.

“We want this to be an all-encompassing program to try to reach consumers so that they think of potatoes first, instead of second or third (when they’re shopping),” he said.

Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail for the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, said that while his organization wasn’t directly involved with Fresh Demand’s initiatives — the IPC already participates in promotional activities on behalf of Idaho potatoes — he was advising the group and applauded its efforts.

“Anything that’s going to increase incremental sales for the industry is a positive,” Pemsler said. “The test will provide information on whether following promotions are warrented on a national front.”

Johnson said it would be pointless to run the test campaign past mid-November, because the Thanksgiving holiday traditionally sparks potato sales annually. He said it probably will take until mid-January to receive the data, which will be tallied by the Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.

“Right now, (promotions are) being put in place, retail contacts are being made,” Johnson said. “We want to see how it does. Potato sales have been up somewhat the first six months due to people eating at home more. But the category isn’t growth-driven right now.

“This is just a shorter-term shopper-marketing activity to help get potatoes in the forefront of consumers’ minds.”