LAS VEGAS – The marketing arm of the U.S. Potato Board has narrowed its sights to target a key potato consumer.

The project began in 2007, said Kathleen Triou, vice president of domestic marketing.

“In order to make the biggest impact on the end consumer, it’s an important task for marketing to identify the target consumer — to really hone in on that specific consumer who has the highest potential opportunity for moving potato volume,” she said.

The Denver-based board determined the target consumer is a woman with children in the home, Triou said. For familiarity purposes, the woman was named Linda. The problem, the board determined, was that there are many different versions of “Linda,” and that maximizing the effectiveness of the marketing effort required more information.

“We needed to know what makes her tick, when she wants to put potatoes on the table, how she uses and prepares potatoes, what other items are on the plate and what varieties she uses,” Triou said.

The task of probing deeper into the various Lindas was given to the Sterling Rice Group Inc., Boulder, Colo., and Kate Thomson, its senior research manager. The research firm began last year with a 3,000 woman online quantitative survey followed by a series of focus groups.

Sterling Rice divided the respondents into five groups, but two — named food involved and just like mom — turned out to provide the best opportunity for increased potato sales, Thomson said.

“There is always the risk of narrowing too much, but these two groups represent about 30 million U.S. women with 25 million spouses and 57 million children,” she said.

“When you reach Linda, you reach about one-third of the population. It’s a big opportunity.”

Among the target Lindas, they are younger than 50 and more than 80% are married; they live in small towns or suburbs with an average household income of $66,000; and 60% of them work outside the home, Thomson said.

Despite the growth of value-added food items, convenience is not No. 1 on Linda’s food priority list.

The top two criteria, Thomson said, are meals everyone in the family will eat and like — and are flavorful. Quick and easy comes in third but with qualifications.

“Convenience to her is not microwaveable dishes, but fewer steps regardless how long it takes to cook,” she said.

Also surprising to the Sterling Rice staff, Thomson said, was the relatively low fourth place finish for healthy foods.

“Linda sees healthy foods as fresh, low in fat, natural and unprocessed, but she is not looking for specific nutrients or heath benefits,” Thomson said.

The narrowly defined Linda cooks more than her contemporaries, enjoys it and thinks of herself as a more traditional cook. Her ideal meal is a sit down family dinner, Thomson said. Sixty one percent of Lindas are ranked as medium potato users, meaning a potato dish is served one to three times weekly, she said.

Linda views potatoes not as a vegetable but as starch, Thomson said. While she serves potatoes almost exclusively as a side dish, such as mashed, baked and french fries, Linda believes potatoes outperform rice and pasta in versatility, high potassium content, in being fresh and natural and one other key issue.

“Potatoes win hands down over both rice and pasta for good value,” Thomson said.

Potato research suggests easy meals boost appeal

Don Schrack

Kathleen Triou, vice president of domestic marketing for the U.S. Potato Board, addresses a fresh potato session at Potato Expo 2011 in Las Vegas.