Last fall, a motivated group of potato industry members set out to find a way to create short-term demand for potatoes that goes beyond the traditional coupon or price cut, but wasn’t a consistent, long-term demand catalyst.

The Fresh Demand Working Group, an ad hoc group of industry members started in 2007, tested its plan, which group leader Mac Johnson called a shorter-term shopper marketing activity, in the fall of 2009.

It failed.

Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Category Partners, Denver, and a former vice president of domestic marketing for the U.S. Potato Board, presented the results of the group’s trial to the industry at various meetings throughout the year.

In contrast to efforts like the U.S. Potato Board, which is working to build long-term demand for potatoes, and other industry associations that build one-time promotions, the group sought to have a marketing program it could keep on hold, ready for use when market conditions required it. The thought was that a program that could spur demand for six to eight weeks could help keep the market from crashing when supply situation sent prices tumbling.

“Unfortunately, the promotion did not pay out,” said Kathleen Triou, vice president of domestic marketing for the U.S. Potato Board. Triou and board president Tim O’Connor acted as advisors to the group.

The trial promotion ran in four U.S. markets last October through mid-November, and offered consumers who purchased of at least two 5-pound bags of potatoes another bag free. It included floor talkers and shelf talkers throughout the store, cross-merchandising, mail-in rebates, free-standing inserts in newspapers, online components and even an endorsement from Sandra Lee, a Food Network chef.

“The Fresh Demand Working Group pretty much said there were a lot of reasons the promotion didn’t pay out, so it won’t be repeated,” Triou said. “But Mac really did head up a strong effort.

One of the elements stacked against the campaign was extremely low pricing on potatoes during the time of the promotion.

“It was a 5-pound bag promotion when 10-pound bags were going through the floor,” Triou said. “Ten-pound bags were going for, in some areas, $1.99, so consumers could get a 5-pound bag, or get two 10-pound bags for about the same price.”

Triou said the group has put its efforts for shorter-term demand growth on the back burner.

“It’s very difficult with a commodity to have a national promotion and have it be turnkey,” Triou said. “Having a third party put on a promotion without the intimate involvement of the grower is very difficult.”

Even though the promotion won’t be repeated, it did yield significant learnings, Triou said.