CHICAGO — Driving sales up in a mature category is no easy task, but The Perishables Group, partnering with a large mid-Atlantic supermarket chain and the U.S. Potato Board, did just that.
The partners in the project, aiming to “reinvent the potato category,” made good use of recipe kiosks owned and operated by ShoptoCook, Buffalo, N.Y. The kiosks are located in each of the supermarket chain's 100-plus stores.
By catching customers' attention with interesting recipes whose main ingredient was potatoes, the month-long project sent sales up 5% across the whole potato category.
“That 5% was calculated with everything else factored out, so we can attribute that incremental increase solely to the interaction at the kiosks,” Bruce Axtman, The Perishables Group's president, told SN.
“To me, the most exciting thing about it is that this sales increase was without any change in retail price. There were no deep-discount promotions or two-for-ones.”
In other words, all sales increases were incremental, but profits were not diminished in the least.
“You know when you have a buy-one, get-one free, you've put that customer out off the market for four to seven weeks. Margins are low, and the additional potatoes moving through the system cost everybody money,” Axtman pointed out.
Quite the contrary with the project, which represented a cooperative effort between the retailer, whose officials asked that it not be named; The Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill.; and the U.S. Potato Board, Denver. It aimed to get in-store customers to think differently about potatoes, to use them differently and to buy varieties they may not have tried previously.
The Potato Board supplied 12 tested, healthy and nutrition-rich recipes to be added to the existing recipes in ShoptoCook's repertoire. Altogether, the kiosks offered more than 100 recipes using potatoes.
The launch coincided with Potato Lovers Month in February, when ShoptoCook added a button on its kiosks' main screens that said “Potato Lovers Month.” At the end of the month, potato recipes had received 12,200 hits, and what's even more significant, customers printed out 5,550 of those recipes.
“We — and the retailer — were very happy with that. That equates to 900 to 1,000 visits to those recipes each month at each store.”
Presumably, the recipes were carried to the stores' produce departments, because sales across the potato category began to climb.
“One of the things that surprised me was that during the following month, the potato recipes were visited even more often. It was 12,500 for that month, with about 30% of them being printed out,” Axtman said.
That's more than twice the hits potato recipes had received in previous months.
And that was with the Potato Lovers Month button having been removed from the main screen.
“I was very encouraged that we got more people viewing recipes the second month than we had the first,” Axtman said. “That says to me that we reached consumers [the first month] who were really interested — so interested they came back. I don't think we would have reached that number the second month if that were not the case.”
Axtman said customers liked using the kiosks because they were easy to operate, and the recipes were interesting.
“A lot of studies have shown that all perishables have a high incidence of impulse buys, and this underscored that.”
The recipes piqued shoppers' curiosity — they were not just the same mashed potatoes and fries. For instance, recipes included pigs in Idaho potato blankets, shrimp-stuffed potato patties and stuffed fingerling potatoes with cheddar. Others were Tuscany potato soup and Reubeni-brat-stuffed Idaho potatoes.
Axtman and his partners in the project, in reinventing the potato, or at least reinvigorating it, also played off the fact that a huge percentage of shoppers do not know at 4 o'clock in the afternoon what they're going to have for dinner.
“Making them think about meals was part of it [the sales success]. The kiosks are an important tool. They gave us the opportunity to engage consumers at store level, get them thinking about meals that sounded easy to make and consequently affected their purchase behavior.”
Instead of just selling more volume of traditional potatoes, this project gave customers new ideas for meals, for using potatoes, for trying new varieties, and cooking them in different ways. All those things the marketers hoped would be residual.
“And it's much less expensive than deep-discounting,” Axtman said.
He pointed out that the elements of this program could be applied to any fresh category, and would especially be applicable to a category that's mature or nearly mature.
“Navel oranges, other fruits, the basics could be the same,” Axtman said. “They'd lend themselves to such a program. The ShoptoCook kiosks are great tools. There's a lot you can do with them to get the customer involved.”
The chain has at least one ShoptoCook kiosk in each of its stores, usually located near the meat/seafood department. Some of the stores, however, have multiple kiosks, some up front and in other departments.
Other stores have tied the kiosks, with their recipes and cooking advice, into seasonal promotions.