The United States Potato Board (USPB) is comprised of many talented board members with varied backgrounds and roles within the potato industry. Rick Kantner has served Alsum Farms and Produce as director of sales and marketing over the past four years, and is a valuable asset, representing Wisconsin and the U.S. potato industry on the USPB.
Kantner first entered the produce business in 1987, when he worked for McCormick Spices, dealing with niche items like Gilroy garlic and fresh herbs. He later served as Chiquita Fresh Express vice president of foodservice, over salads, fruits and, of course, bananas. Just prior to his potato industry initiation, he worked for Prima Bella Produce, a grower and shipper of sweet corn, specializing in bulk and value-added packaged corn products.
“I grew up in farm country in southern New Jersey,” Kantner said. “There was corn, blueberries, strawberries and tomatoes in my hometown…in fact my high school was surrounded by cornfields. However, my background is in sales and marketing for the grocery industry. I have spent years in the information business, serving as group vice president for Spectra Marketing—who currently works with the USPB on loyalty cards and shopper data—and as a senior vice president with Information Resources, Inc.
“I really believe in the power of information to drive the potato industry and retailers. The challenging part is retail customers have multiple suppliers of potatoes, and it’s a competitive market. Also, the consumer demographic continues to change. Consumers are looking for variety and convenience in their meal choices.
“And this, coupled with the history of the ‘low-carb’ diets, which challenged the healthy aspect of potatoes. The USPB responded well, promoting the nutrition of the potato, but the nutrition message about potatoes must continue. There are still people in the industry who do not know or understand the value of the potato’s nutrition and its significance as the bona fide America’s favorite vegetable. Potatoes are great for grocery stores. There are so many complimentary items for potatoes, and potato dishes go well with practically everything.”
Alsum Produce grows primarily russets, but also produces golds, reds and whites. As a full service produce department supplier, they market all potato varieties, including organics and fingerlings. They market potatoes to both retail and foodservice, and some for the process market. Non U.S. No. 1 potatoes are processed into potato salads and frozen products with companies in Wisconsin and Ohio.
Alsum Produce farms its own acreage and also rents additional land. They will often partner with other farmers to rotate potato acres. Field corn, seed corn, snap beans and peas are also grown in rotation.
The farm is located in the Wisconsin River valley, and is about 120 miles south of Wisconsin’s Central Sands region where most of the state’s 64,500 acres of potatoes are grown. This isolation is viewed as an advantage for both production concerns and marketing opportunities.
Sustainable growth and business opportunity development can be particularly challenging in years of excess potato supplies. Because Alsum Produce is both a farm and a full service produce provider buying potatoes from other farmers, they pride themselves on dealing fairly with their network of suppliers and working to provide their partners and associates with a fair return for their production.
As a grower/shipper, Alsum Produce excels in maintaining a robust supply of all kinds of potatoes through managing its own production resources and supplier partnerships. They are a supplier of fresh potatoes 52 weeks of the year. Twenty percent of Alsum Produce’s farm grown potatoes are field run right into packaging for shipment to their customers, and 80 percent of the crop is stored for future distribution.
“Our market niche is our ability to supply retail grocers with the majority of their produce needs, and excelling with potato category best practices, positioning Alsum Produce as an information resource to our customers,” Kantner said. “Our organization is committed to product development like our ‘Fast & Fresh’ microwave-ready red and gold potatoes. This offering cooks in five minutes, and at 12 oz. pack size, it’s perfect for one to two servings.
“People are looking for variety in their foods. There is a lot of potential growth in new products and varieties. The trend with our customers is moving from pantry loading to providing variety and convenience.”
Click here for details about two new lines of potato products from Aslum Produce.
Kantner has been a board member of the USPB for three years, and has served on the domestic marketing committee of the USPB administrative committee for two years. He actively works to implement USPB domestic marketing programs and resources.
“The USPB’s entire team has a passion for potatoes, and they don’t let challenges get in the way,” he said. “USPB domestic marketing retail programs contractor Don Ladhoff is a phenomenal asset to the USPB, and the work of USPB public relations manager Meredith Myers is great and meaningful too. You can set your watch to what they say they will do with their programs, and it gets done.
“Everybody seems to find ways to express the negatives about the potatoes or issues in the potato industry, but the USPB consistently serves up the positives about potatoes. This is great for retailers and consumers because of the value, health and nutrition of potatoes. And don’t forget, potatoes taste great and go with everything,” Kantner said.
Most recently, Kantner has been involved with the USPB’s retail best practices with Ladhoff, and worked with him on Roundy’s “Potatopalooza” to build consumer awareness about potatoes and helping this retailer increase its potato marketing effectiveness.
“I enjoy working in the potato industry,” he said. “The USPB has done an excellent job getting growers and shippers connected on programs and what they can do to help retailers understand the value and quality of potatoes. They are not center of the plate, but working together, we can increase potato eatings per capita to more than several times per week.”
As a USPB member, Kantner is uniquely qualified to lead and represent the industry on a national level. He understands marketing initiatives and has the skills and experience to implement meaningful and effective efforts. He advocates the development of research and education and going forward to retailers with information and resources that has been well prepared.
“What I find to be of tremendous value from the USPB is the information they’ve made available that I can take to retailers to provide them with the expertise to sell and market potatoes to their customers,” Kantner said. “The USPB is adept and resourceful in helping us identify who our customers are and how potatoes relate to their lives and belong in their shopping baskets.”
— By David Fairbourn, USPB ICP Manager