This post is sponsored by Idahoan Foods.
Idahoan Foods saw sales of its fresh-dried mashed potato products rise during the pandemic as consumers cooked more meals at home. Consumers embraced more time at home by experimenting with new recipes, reaching for global flavors as a way to explore other cultures, and showed off their skills on social media. Idahoan tapped into these rapidly evolving consumer trends and pivoted marketing strategies throughout the year in order to connect with new households and keep encouraging consumers to pull Idahoan products from their shelves on a regular basis. In this interview, Idahoan Foods’ Vice President of Retail Marketing and Business Development Ryan Ellis discusses the company’s newest marketing initiative and how Idahoan stays connected with consumers.
Idahoan Foods has reached nearly 5 million new households since the start of the pandemic. How did you shift marketing during the pandemic to speak to consumers who found themselves cooking at home much more often during the past year?
For years, we’ve been driving industry leading household penetration growth and a loyalty rate of 90% through our targeted marketing campaigns, but we identified a need to evolve our messaging to ensure household retention when consumers’ home cooking behaviors spiked about a year ago.
Historically, we’ve positioned our Flavored Mashed Potatoes as a high-quality side dish available in 17 exciting flavor varieties that deliver homemade taste in minutes when prepared according to the simple directions on our packaging. To bring this positioning to life, our communications centered around how our products are made with 100% real Idaho potatoes from local growers, which we wash, peel, boil and mash just like you would at home. We’d then explain how we simply fresh-dry them so they’re easy for consumers at home to prepare in just minutes, as well as that they are free from artificial flavors and colors.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were experimenting in the kitchen both out of necessity and as a source of entertainment while spending more time at home. As a result, we provided inspiration for consumers in the kitchen. We pivoted to position Idahoan fresh-dried mashed potatoes as an ingredient that could be used in a wide variety of recipes, including dishes inspired by global flavors.
We recently noticed a shift in consumer behavior and mindset, with many experiencing cooking fatigue, which helped drive an adjusted recipe strategy that ranges in complexity. This latest evolution to our strategy showcases Idahoan’s ease and deliciousness for those once again gravitating toward convenience-driven solutions, as well as more involved recipes that appeal to our “foodie” consumers.
How is your new marketing initiative — Project PULL — helping maintain increased sales momentum?
When it comes to Idahoan products, we know that tasting is believing — as shown by our 90% loyalty rate. This was the inspiration behind Project PULL, an initiative spearheaded by Wes Myer, director of retail marketing at Idahoan Foods. Getting Idahoan into the hands of consumers is always an effective tactic for us, and we’ve executed a number of programs over the last year to engage and retain the new households we’ve reached. In addition to sending 125,000 coupon and recipe mailers to consumers in key markets, we distributed 300,000 actual samples of Idahoan Buttery Homestyle Mashed Potatoes, our flagship product, to households in retention-focused areas.
However, we also recognized that many new consumers may have been introduced to our products during the period of grocery stockpiling that occurred at the start of the pandemic, and we’ve adjusted our recipe strategy and creative to help inspire them to pull Idahoan from their pantries if they hadn’t already. By demonstrating how versatile, delicious and easy Idahoan products can be, we are confident these new consumers will keep turning to us for high quality, convenient meal solutions.
Part of the strategy focuses on recipe content that highlights global flavors. How did you develop these different recipes, and why are recipe ideas such an important part of marketing to consumers who are cooking at home more than ever?
Travel rates have been down, but consumers miss the sense of discovery that comes with venturing to new destinations. “Traveling” through your culinary endeavors is one way to get a taste of new locales without ever needing to leave your home. We’ve worked to highlight the diverse role Idahoan products can play in these culinary adventures through recipes ranging from our Indian Butter Chicken Mashed Potato Bowl to our Hawaiian Pulled Pork Mashed Potato Bowl.
Between our work with corporate chefs and influencer partners through the years, we’ve built a dynamic repertoire of brand-owned recipes. This series highlighting global flavors has been the latest phase in a recipe strategy we’ve strategically kept nimble to continually align with consumer trends.
Another recipe-focused strategy is the TikTok recipe challenge #idahoanmash. What inspired this challenge and Idahoan’s TikTok dance challenge, the #mashoutchallenge?
We were inspired by the creativity of so many TikTok users! Gen Z tend to be new consumers for our brand, and we found success in engaging with them through the platform by tapping into the lighthearted, creative spirit TikTok is known for. Kiersten McFarland, marketing specialist at Idahoan Foods, approached this from two angles, starting with a culinary challenge because we are, at the end of the day, experts in food and that’s what we know best. This also allowed us to showcase the product we’ve found resonates with Gen Z most — our Flavored Mashed Potatoes. At the same time, we launched the dance challenge to show these consumers a fun side of our brand they may not have experienced before.
Ryan Ellis is vice president of retail marketing and business development at Idahoan Foods. He is a member of the Senior Leadership Team and oversees all elements of marketing, including product launches, e-commerce, creative, social and digital, branding and PR, as well as business development and consumer programs for the brand’s full product portfolio. Since Ellis joined Idahoan Foods in 2012, under his stewardship, the company has seen a 45-point gain in retail brand share and 19-point gain in household penetration in the US. Ellis is also leading the brand’s launch in the UK, which has gained share leadership in only three years.