Prepared Potato Images Increase Promotional Volume For Retailer Circular Ads

Don Ladhoff, Retail Programs Consultant, United States Potato Board

Retail promotions are very important to the fresh potato category, with the share of category volume sold on feature ads hovering around 27 percent. As the marketing organization for the U.S. potato industry, the United States Potato Board (USPB) has a keen interest in determining what can make retailers’ circular ads more effective. To that end, the USPB has been working with Nielsen Perishables Group in recent months to examine the characteristics of the most successful retailer feature ads. The results presented findings that retailers can easily adopt to increase fresh potato sales.

This opportunity initially caught our attention during the post-analysis phase of a Category Optimization program that the USPB implemented with a Midwestern retailer when Nielsen evaluated the promotional lift from a series of feature ads that ran over the course of the program. To our surprise, Nielsen reported that the most successful circular ads were ones that included images of prepared potato dishes as opposed to others, which depicted raw potatoes or showed bagged product.

Intrigued, we commissioned Nielsen to undertake a full-scale study to analyze the performance of two classes of retailer circular ads, separating out those using prepared potato images from those using images of raw or bagged potatoes. Nielsen examined examples of both classes of fresh potato circular ads from 10 different retail chains across the U.S., matching up their ads to align potato type & package, discount levels, and circular ad placement and calculating the aggregate lift on promotion generated by more than 40 matched sets of circular ads. After all the results were tabulated, Nielsen came to a straightforward conclusion: ads that feature prepared potato images are decidedly more effective!

Nielsen’s analysis determined that circular ads showing images of prepared potato dishes delivered incremental volume lifts that were a full 23 points higher than raw or bagged ads (156 percent versus 133 percent respectively). The analysis also determined that prepared potato ads proved to be much more effective for bagged potatoes than bulk potatoes and that this effect was even more pronounced for Red bagged potatoes. While the improvement of Russet 5-pound bags using prepared potato images was similar to the overall differential for the entire potato category — a 24-point improvement, which is 134 percent compared to 110 percent — Red 5-pound bags experienced a performance boost of nearly twice the norm, a whopping 62 points (188 percent versus 122 percent incremental volume lift).

With Nielsen’s help, we went a step further to consider why this effect was occurring. Ultimately, we agreed that we could attribute the strong performance of prepared image ads to three primary factors:

1) Prepared potato images look more appetizing, and consequently do a better job of attracting consumers’ attention.

2) Prepared circular ads illustrate the desirable “end state” — the reason that shoppers want to purchase potatoes in the first place.

3) Delicious potato photographs provide consumers with ideas for new and interesting potato preparations — a proven influencer for increasing potato consumption.

Retail meat departments clearly discovered this same relationship long ago, as fresh beef is almost always shown in circular ads as a deliciously cooked item. However, the produce department generally prefers to showcase “fresh” offerings — which works fine for berries, peppers, apples and the like, but less so for potatoes. Since fresh potatoes, like fresh beef, need to be cooked before serving, our research would indicate that a simple approach for improving feature ad performance is to treat potatoes like beef and always show them prepared.

The USPB is assisting food retailers in taking advantage of this opportunity to increase fresh potato sales by making hundreds of mouth-watering photographs of potato dishes available at absolutely no charge. Any image found in the USPB’s recipe database located at can be requested as a high-resolution image file; interested retailers should contact don.ladhoff for more information.