By: Kate Olender, Senior Director, Health & Wellness, United Fresh Produce Association
How does the largest vegetable commodity board develop personal relationships that build business and help kids eat better? Through a social media campaign that surprises communities with school salad bars!
Through “21 Weeks of Giving,” Potatoes USA, which represents more than 2,500 potato growers and handlers, fulfills schools’ requests for a salad bar and ideas for serving fresh fruit and veggies. For a 21-week period culminating in June, 2018, Potatoes USA is donating salad bars to one school district every week. Winners are revealed on the campaign’s Facebook page.
Using social media allows the organization to reach potential customers and develop new relationships as people “like,” comment, and share posts. In fact, over 7,000 school operators viewed the original press release over social media and many shared it, organically increasing the visibility of Potatoes USA among foodservice operations and families.
After the salad bar recipient is announced on social media, Potatoes USA helps ensure each donated salad bar is a success. The organization places a plaque on the salad bars, featuring the farmer who donated it and who grows some of the district’s food so kids can learn where their food comes from. Many farmers represented by Potatoes USA have even reached out to school districts to participate in salad bar ribbon cuttings, school assemblies, after school programs, and community fairs.
Not only does the program help increase kids’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables, but it’s good for business, too. The “21 Weeks of Giving” campaign has opened the door for Potatoes USA to help school districts identify healthy ways to serve potatoes.
“Schools are eager for support from our industry,” says Rachael Lynch, Registered Dietitian and Global Marketing Manager for Potatoes USA. “We take for granted that we know lots of ways to serve fresh fruits and veggies, but the reality is, schools don’t always know how many options there are. We need to do a better job of connecting with operators. School foodservice wants to know we’re real people, and we really want to help,” she adds.
While kids (and adults, let’s admit it) will always love tater tots, Potatoes USA is introducing school districts to potato pizza, Greek yogurt honey mustard potato salad, Cuban potato salad, spicy African potato cakes, and more. Some schools are even incorporating chilled potato wedges dipped in a ranch yogurt or a buffalo chicken dip to their after school and supper programs after seeing the success of the dish on the salad bar.
Potato usage on the school foodservice menu has seen a 13 percent increase just this past year as the industry partners with foodservice to expose kids to the versatility of the potato. No longer offered just as French fries, potatoes are now featured in a variety of dishes, including as a fresh vegetable on school salad bars.