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Getting Buyers Excited

Few agricultural segments have needed to adapt as much as the potato industry.

Sure, growers of all specialty crops and commodities have adopted new technology, from water-monitoring equipment to GPS-guided planters and harvesters. But potato growers – faced with a declining market and rising input costs – set about to become profitable by addressing the supply and demand side of the equation.

Reducing acreage nationwide reduced the overabundance of potatoes on the market, and marketing campaigns and increased exports have helped to address the demand side.

Nowhere is this new emphasis on marketing more visible than at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, held in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 25-27. A few years ago, potato products could be found on the edges of the show floor with small booths and limited displays. But at the last two Fresh Summit shows, potato marketers and grower/shippers have moved into the midst of the show, attracting retail buyers with updated displays and giveaways.

At last year’s Fresh Summit, the Idaho Potato Commission had a large booth space with cowboys doing rope tricks and the chance for attendees to have their picture taken on a bull (a fake one – and I had my picture taken on the bull with Miss Texas).

Representatives from potato industry trade associations also attended the produce shows. The United States Potato Board was there, as was the National Potato Council. But more importantly, retail buyers and distributors attend the show. It’s a great place to network, and many partnerships and new products have been hammered out on the show floor or during breaks in sessions.

Growers may not see the benefit to attending a produce show – why should a potato grower need to see the latest fruit importer or fresh-cut vegetable? Specialty crops today need to be marketed correctly, and the companies exhibiting at Fresh Summit know how to do that well. Take the opportunity to learn from other segments of the industry and apply those lessons to potatoes. Some of the new products available in the potato industry – microwaveable bags and fresh-cut potatoes – have used technology that was first used on other vegetables and crossed over to potatoes.

Industry meetings are incredibly valuable and important, but don’t forget about broader conventions. The people you meet there may open new markets and opportunities for your growing operation.

Originally posted Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008

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