Designer potatoes an example of access to high-value markets
November 30, 1999 By Myron Love
Potatoes are cheap, right?
Potatoes are cheap, right? Well, that may be so when selling tubers by the 10-pound bag but a marketing company in the U.S. is selling its potatoes for more than $1 a piece. What it is doing is wrapping the pre-washed potato in an attractive package and putting a label on the wrap listing cooking and microwave instructions.
That is just one example of high-value market access spotlighted by Brent Warner, an agricultural marketing consultant.
“Most young people don’t know how to prepare potatoes,” Warner notes.
One of the people behind White Loaf Ridge Canada, Warner provides assistance to growers interested in making their products stand out in a world where most vegetable products are in a state of oversupply.
“What you have to bear in mind is that consumers are purchasing your experience,” Warner says. “Surveys show that most Canadians have a high level of trust in their local producers and prefer to be able to buy locally produced products.”
To support that statement, he cites the recent efforts made by the national supermarket chains to emphasize local production. He notes that over the past summer, 35 per cent of the produce for sale at Loblaws stores was purchased from local producers. In Fredericton, N.B., the Fredericton Co-op store has been selling only New Brunswick-grown corn for the past three years, he adds, while the Fraser Valley co-operative, B.C. Fresh, is working with medium size retailers and distributors to get more B.C.-grown product into the stores.
And people are going back to basics, he observes. They don’t want a lot of additives in their foods and are more concerned with food safety.
“In order to be a successful marketer, you have to know who your customer is, not just now but also five years from now,” Warner says, using as an example recent surveys showing huge growth in the number of Muslim immigrants coming to Canada, which is expected to translate into increased demand for lamb.
The current American obesity crisis, combined with a corresponding increase in the number of people with diabetes, will also have an effect on what is in your product (for further processors), he says.
On-farm visits are becoming increasingly popular in North America. Warner notes that less than two per cent of Canadians have any connection with farming and many are curious to experience farm life. Farm visits are a good way for producers to enhance their incomes during slow periods of the year, he suggests.
You-pick operations are one obvious way to attract “city folks” to the farm. Warner says that while you-pick was drying up in recent years, its popularity has come back strong. He reports that on Vancouver Island, for example, there weren’t enough berries to last the summer.
“People had to be turned away,” he says.
Warner adds that you-pick operators also have an opportunity to educate their visitors in the ways of canning and freezing berries. “A lot of people don’t know how and want to learn,” he says. “There was a 92 per cent increase in the sale of canning and freezing supplies last year.”
And cookbooks are big sellers.
“People are eating out less these days,” he says. “Home freezer sales are up by 15 per cent over the past three years and continue to increase.”
Farmers’ markets are also growing in popularity, he adds, cautioning that people want the real thing. In 2010, Loblaws tried unsuccessfully to introduce its version of a “farmers’ market” into its Ontario stores and Safeway attempted the same thing in California. Both were quickly closed down by consumer and industry complaints.
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