Branding Potatoes: Do Fresh Foods Really Need Brand Awareness?

Retailers, restaurants, supermarkets, manufacturers, financial service providers; these are the enterprises we expect to would need brand awareness initiatives. But what about fresh produce? We’re not talking about a chain of fresh produce stores or even a chain of farms; we’re talking about an actual vegetable – the potato to be precise.

Is the brand in danger?

It is in South Africa, apparently. It seems that people in South Africa associate the potato with unhealthy living. They don’t know that it is, in fact, absolutely fat free and jam-packed with assorted nutrients. There’s very little more wholesome than simple boiled or steamed potatoes. It’s all the butter and cream and frying in oil that make them a cardiologist’s worst nightmare.

To combat these negative perceptions, in 2012, Potatoes South Africa (PSA), the official association for potato farmers in the country, launched what they hoped would be an innovative campaign to up the cool factor of the humble potato and make it a daily staple in people’s diets.

What’s in a (potato) campaign?

PSA and its marketing company (Revolution Brand Activists) made students their primary focus. The idea, one imagines, is to get them hooked early so that they continue their potato habits into adulthood and imbue their future offspring with a similar passion, perpetuating the vegetable’s popularity.

To make the campaign student-friendly, the bulk of it takes place online. But this could be a costly mistake in a market like South Africa, where the majority of the population doesn’t have access to the internet. It limits the brand’s reach dramatically. In fact, it’s possible that this limiting factor is the reason the official website (potatonation) seems to no longer exist. There is still a Facebook page; however, activity is scatty at best.

The website had potential. It had a growing recipes section, there was a games section, and there was also a competition for students: A potato cook off, which encouraged people to film themselves making something potatoey and then upload it to the site. Unfortunately, it launched with very little content (there was only one game, for example), and you had to register to enter the site. That’s often a big turn-off for visitors who like their website viewing to be as easy and uncomplicated as possible. It could be considered a major error on the part of the marketing team.

Missing out

One can understand why the PSA feels it needs to target youngsters, especially if it wants to make potatoes cool and the go-to food of choice. But if one of its aims is to educate people about the health benefits of incorporating potatoes into daily diets then it’s going about it all wrong.

Many, many students in South Africa live at home because they can’t afford to move out – so mom is still doing the shopping. Also, the number of students in the country is only a fraction of the population – grassroots initiatives and more in-store displays would be far more effective.


When it comes to marketing anything – from potatoes to high-end jewellery – you have to know your target market. You have to ensure that your aims coincide with the needs and the means of your target market. Potatoes in South Africa could just be missing the mark.

Featured images:

Jemima Winslow is a potato fiend. She loves the humble spud in all forms, especially baked and mashed, and is not afraid to experiment. She would have nailed the cook-off competition.

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