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Rachael Lynch, global marketing manager for institutional food service at Potatoes USA, detailed research the industry conducted at the International Crop Expo on Wednesday, February 21, 2018 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Agweek

Grocerants and Gen Z: Looking for the future for potatoes

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — You may not have heard of a "grocerant," but you're almost certainly among the growing number of Americans who have eaten in one. It's part of a fundamental change in eating patterns, and one the U.S. potato industry is well positioned to benefit from, an industry official said.

"More people are eating out, at bars and restaurants (and other establishments), more so than at supermarkets," Rachael Lynch said. "It's a huge opportunity for us."

Lynch, global food service marketing manager for Potatoes USA, the national marketing agency formerly known as the U.S. Potato Board, spoke Feb. 21 in Grand Forks, N.D., at the International Crop Expo.

Potatoes — of which the Red River Valley of northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota is a top producer — is a major component of the annual Crop Expo.

Food service refers to businesses, institutions and companies responsible for any meal prepared outside the home. Globally, food service sales have climbed to $761 billion annually.

In the United States, "Total demand for potatoes is growing," Lynch said. "The percentage of potato sales that go for food services keeps increasing as more and more Americans eat out of the home."

Though "potato sales at retail are expanding, food service sales are expanding even faster," she said.

Grocerant — a hybrid of "grocery" and "restaurant" — refers to businesses that sell ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat food items. Grocerants include the prepared food and prepackaged food areas of convenience stores, the deli-lifestyle section of grocery stores and the delivery section of restaurant menus or websites.

"It's a gray area that's really changing the market," Lynch said, stressing her industry is working to get more potatoes sold at grocerants.

Winning fans among Generation Z, generally regarded as people born 1995 to 2012, is another priority to the potato industry, Lynch said.

She described Generation Z as "large and diverse," with half coming from multicultural backgrounds, and they value freshness, variety and quality, regardless of cost.

The potato industry began working to win the support of Generation Z when its members were school children, following them when they move to colleges and universities, Lynch said.

"We're building potato lovers for life," she said.

Consumers of all ages are finding reasons to buy and enjoy potatoes. Being "allergy free" and "gluten free" are the most important to consumers overall, Lynch said.