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Wisconsin grower-shipper-packer named chairman

The U.S. Potato Board elected its board for 2007-08 during its annual meeting March 14-16 in Broomfield, Colo. Larry Alsum, general manager and owner of Alsum Produce and Alsum Farms in Friesburg, Wis., was elected chairman of the board.

This will be Alsum’s fifth year on the USPB board. He started on the research and domestic marketing committees, then served as the chairman of the research committee, co-chair of the domestic marketing committee and member of the executive committee.

Alsum Produce is a packaging and marketing company for potatoes and onions, and the farm is a 1,300-acre potato growing operation. Alsum’s packing shed is a state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot facility with equipment designed to minimize damage to tubers during packing. The company’s products are branded under the Absolutely Alsum name and distributed throughout the eastern and southern United States by the company’s 25 trucks and more than 50 trailers.

Alsum will be working with USPB to increase potato consumption. USPB has a five-year plan that goes through 2011, and Alsum said the board is sticking to it.

“We reaffirmed that we’re staying the course on that long-range plan.”

One program that has been particularly effective is the Best in Class Program aimed at retailers.

“We’re fighting the challenge of declining consumption. We have to be on target to address those issues,” Alsum said. “The hurdle is to find out what’s causing our decrease in demand of fresh-market potatoes.”

U.S. consumers have to be made aware that the potato is a healthy vegetable that can fit in with a busy lifestyle. Alsum said the younger generation of shoppers is less educated about produce in general because they weren’t raised in families that cooked. To combat that, USPB is working to educate consumers and develop recipes and varieties that will be appealing to their lifestyles.

“That’s one of our challenges – to be innovative. I think it’s going to be a challenge, but also an opportunity for us,” he said.

Alsum has tried to be innovative at his own company to combat the trend of declining potato consumption – and it’s the same technique USPB is using to increase U.S. consumption. Creating innovative products that fill consumers’ demands for convenience and healthy food is key to turning around the slide in sales.

“The message we get from consumers is ‘we love potatoes,’ but they’re looking for something different.”

The board’s foodservice program is attacking the problem from a different angle.

“Trends start at the foodservice level,” Alsum said. “It opens up a lot of market opportunities.”
The program has brought in chefs from around the country – and from Europe and Asia – to educate them about potatoes. The chefs have time to experiment with new recipes. Alsum said new menu items have been created as a result of the program, and consumers who enjoy food at a restaurant would seek out recipes to try at home.

Originally posted Monday, Apr. 23, 2007

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