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IN THE TRENCHES: Put some muscle into those Idaho potato displays

by Ron Pelger | December 22, 2010
Luther Burbank, an agricultural pioneer, horticulturist and botanist, was responsible for successfully developing over 800 plant varieties throughout his long career. Among some of the more popular species were the Freestone peach, Santa Rosa plum, Wickson plum, Flaming Gold nectarine and the popular Shasta daisy.

In the 1870s, Mr. Burbank was also responsible for developing the russet potato. These long, cylindrical, heavily netted gems eventually became quite popular with consumers.

In the produce industry, we normally identify this potato as the russet Burbank. It is now the most extensively farmed potato variety in the United States, especially in Idaho.

Many consumers often associate russet potatoes with Idaho, and it is not uncommon to hear a person refer to an Idaho russet as a "baking" potato, even though this variety is well suited for mashing and other uses.

The russet Burbank is also highly popular for making french-fried potatoes. If you were to hold up a russet potato in your hand and ask 10 people at random to identify the variety, how would they respond? Many would probably say it is an “Idaho” potato, because people often associate quality with Idaho potatoes.

Shoppers can often be heard asking a produce manager, “Where are the Idaho baking potatoes?” Others will point at a display of russets and ask, “How much are these Idaho potatoes?” Hardly ever do we hear a shopper say, “Do you have any russet Burbank potatoes?” Today, consumers can easily identify Idaho potatoes by the “Grown in Idaho” logo, which can be found everywhere Idaho potatoes are sold.

If Luther Burbank could step out of the past and into a present-day supermarket for his shopping needs, how would he find his russet potatoes displayed? Would they be on a two-foot-wide section of the rack? Or maybe a handful of russets in a couple of wicker baskets? Or would there be a few bags placed on a rear table fixture? Is it possible he would even be able to find the potato display at all?

In some supermarkets, that is exactly what is happening these days as shoppers are unintentionally walking past potatoes mainly due to ineffective displays. This obviously leads to missed sales.

There is a produce merchandising expression I often use: “If you only want to sell a small amount of product, display it in a one-square-foot space. But if you want to sell massive amounts, display it all the way to the moon.”

This phrase is especially true for potatoes. Big, aggressive displays of bagged and bulk potatoes are the only ways to generate some serious high-volume sales. I often label these as “muscle displays.” In muscle there is strength, and it takes some flexing to build strong sales growth in the potato category. Don't make selling complicated. Boost your Idaho potato volume by sticking to some simple merchandising methods at the retail store level. Here are four basic tips to accomplish growth:

Stock it massive. The first rule in moving huge amounts of Idaho potatoes is to set up massive and aggressive displays fully stocked with an abundance of product to do the job. Give it plenty of muscle.

Use table end caps. One of the prime locations to display produce is on the end caps. These areas are highly visible and heavily shopped as customers walk around the tables from one side to the other. They are excellent locations for massive displays of bagged Idaho potatoes. Display your most popular bag on a table end cap for greater selling power.

Go for incremental sales. Raise your average sales volume. Do some upselling by building large wing displays of bulk Idaho potatoes alongside a table end cap or freestanding in an open aisle. Use empty original potato boxes for the base and stack them against the table end. Dummy the top boxes 50 percent to control shrink and fill the display by neatly stacking potatoes with expert workmanship.

Add a waterfall. This method spills your display into original boxes for that extra selling punch. The waterfall draws attention to shoppers and creates buying excitement. Place empty Idaho potato boxes in front of your regular display with the labels facing up. All labels should be the same brand to maintain uniformity. You can also add potato bales onto the boxes for extra appeal as though they just came off the truck. Dummy top boxes using the same method as the wing display and stock them with plenty of product. Put some clout into it.

Drive sales by advertising Idaho potatoes regularly. Consistent promotions will influence customer purchases and move some big tonnage through the stores at the same time. Although price is important, the overall impact of a massive and aggressive display will drive sales every time.

Use your selling skills and enthusiasm to double and triple Idaho potato sales by focusing on aggressive merchandising. This easily can be accomplished through use of those “muscle displays.”

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at or check his web site at