Millennials targeted in €1m makeover for the humble spud

Initiative comes after campaign aimed at women led to reversal in declining sales

Ireland is teaming up with Belgium and France to co-fund the research aimed at improving potato sales. Photograph: iStock

Ireland is teaming up with Belgium and France to co-fund the research aimed at improving potato sales. Photograph: iStock

 

Young people are being targeted in a €1 million bid to safeguard the future of the humble potato after a campaign focusing on women appears to have arrested a historic plunge in the staple’s popularity in Ireland.

Despite their international and historic reputation as the country’s favourite vegetable, sales of potatoes have plummeted over recent decades as shoppers increasingly turned to the likes of pasta and rice for their carbohydrates. Low-carbohydrate diets have also fuelled the free fall.

An “historic low point” in sales in 2012 forced many potato farmers out of their long-held livelihoods and pushed the industry into taking action, said Lorcan Bourke, a business analyst with Bord Bia.

At the start of the new millennium, 474,000 tonnes of the root crop were produced a year – the equivalent of six 2.5kg bags every second. By 2012, that had almost halved to 244,267 tonnes.

“We went to the potato farmers and said: ‘Look lads, we need to do something about this’,” said Mr Bourke.

Image problem

With the help of the European Union and the British Potato Board, Bord Bia began a three-year effort to “basically change the image of potatoes”.

Researchers interviewed mostly women aged 22 to 44, on the basis they were predominantly the main decision-makers in households and did most of the shopping and cooking. “There was a big image problem. The potato was seen to be of an older generation, even though people love them.”

A campaign built around the research, and developed by a London-based marketing agency, included media advertising, social media and a website which included more than 140 “non-traditional” recipes using potatoes.

The website focused on meals between 300 and 500 calories that could be cooked within 25 minutes, with an emphasis on being fat-free and gluten-free.

The result has been a significant reversal in declining sales. By 2017, production was back up to more than 384,000 tonnes – an almost 60 per cent rise since 2012. Last year there was a dip, but that is being blamed on the summer drought.

On the back of the campaign’s success, Bord Bia is now targeting consumers in their 20s and 30s, in the first study of its kind into younger people’s attitude to that most traditionally Irish of foods.

Health conscious

“Millennials are watching what they are eating,” said Mr Bourke. “They are very health conscious and we are trying to explore where the image of the potato fits into that.

“We want to see if they have the same baggage as 22 - 44-year-old females, do they see potatoes as an acceptable product, are they trendy, do people have knowledge of how to cook them beyond traditional ways?

“My suspicion is that maybe they don’t appreciate how healthy they actually are – that is something we would like to correct.”

This time, Ireland is teaming up with Belgium and France to co-fund the research, with an application in with the EU to contribute towards the €1 million project. A tender has gone out for researchers.

Initial findings, expected by late spring, will inform a new marketing campaign.

Mr Bourke sees it as no less than a battle to safeguard the future of the potato’s special place in Irish homes.

“Millennials will be the householders, the mothers and fathers, the family grocery shoppers and cooks of the future.

“We need to get them on the radar.”