Black Gold Farms, McCormick join to create new potato dish
‘Better with Reds’ new marketing campaign
for red potatoes
FOREST RIVER – Move over Idaho® Potato – there’s a new kid on the block. The red table potato is bursting onto the fresh produce marketplace with a new marketing campaign from Black Gold Farms called “Better with Reds.”
The person behind this new strategy, promoting the longtime favorite dinner staple of Red River Valley families, is Leah Brakke, director of marketing for Black Gold Farms.
Leah is one of three siblings making up the fourth generation of Halverson’s to work in the family farming business. John, Eric, and father Gregg Halverson join Leah in leading the company.
Rooted in Forest River, Black Gold Farms has grown to be a 20,000 acre potato farm with operations in 11 states and approximately 170 employees. Since 1928, when A. E. (Hallie) Halverson raised his first certified seed potatoes, the Halverson’s have been looking for ways to add value to their primary product – potatoes.
The company, however, doesn’t make profitability the only goal. They have ascribed to a “culture of sustainability” throughout the business. “You can’t survive in business for 85 years without paying good attention to sustainability,” said Gregg Halverson, CEO of the company. “We have to be profitable in order to be sustainable.”
Profitability, along with working in a systematic, data-driven agronomy model, has worked well for the business that sees sustainability as a three-legged stool – environmental, social and economic. “We don’t want to spend a penny more in agricultural inputs than is necessary,” says Halverson.
Their commitment to sustainability carried through to the design and construction of their new corporate headquarters, located just south of the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
Although all three Halverson siblings are products of an NDSU education, they are very proud of their wide open view of the Alerus Center’s UND Football signage. According to the company’s printed guide to the building’s sustainable features, the design assures that all hallways, office spaces and meeting rooms have access to outdoor views. In fact, most of the vertical real estate on the north and south sides of the building is glass.
“We wanted to put our money where our mouth was on sustainability, so we decided to design our new building to meet LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified standards. JLG, the architects Black Gold employed on the project, is hopefully on the verge of receiving a Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council® for their design of the Black Gold Corporate Headquarters, an achievement that makes the Halverson team beam with pride.
That pride shines through in every aspect of Brakke’s marketing of the company, its employees, its land partners, its vendors, and its customers. Being the nation’s largest supplier of fresh crop chipping potatoes, with Frito-Lay their largest customer, Black Gold’s marketing strategy goes well beyond their products.
Brakke brings a fresh and tech-savvy approach to the marketing of Black Gold’s brand. In addition to the company website, Brakke employs social media to spread the word about the company, their values and their products, especially the under-appreciated red table potato.
“We knew red potatoes were under-marketed and wanted to promote reds over russets,” said Brakke. “Russets have been the standard and that’s what we wanted to change, so we came up with the “Better with Reds” campaign.
Halverson and Brakke understood from research done by the United States Potato Board that consumers were looking for new ideas for potato side dishes. They partnered with McCormick® Produce Partners® seasonings to provide a potato product that was easy to prepare and full of flavor.
The product of that partnership is a small plastic container of fresh red potatoes with a seasoning packet included. Simple cooking instructions are printed directly on the package, which is designed to maximize the marketing opportunity for both Black Gold and McCormick brands and to protect the potatoes from store lighting, which could turn the potato skin green. The package includes a handle for easy pick up.
“McCormick is one of the most recognizable spice brands and we have created a product that doesn’t require refrigeration or special packaging,” says Brakke. The product is packaged at the Black Gold facility in Arbryd, Mo, and was initially marketed through HEB grocery stores in Texas, due to their proximity to the Missouri facility. All three flavors are now available in Hugo’s stores in this region.
“Currently, the demand for the new product is exceeding the supply and we may need to look at another packaging facility,” said Halverson. “We are working on securing a national distributor. Once we have more orders in our back pocket, we will ramp up our packaging operation.”
The product is also receiving great reviews from the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), the trade group that represents the fresh produce industry, including huge multi-national producers such as Del Monte and Dole. The Black Gold Farms and McCormick® product received a nomination for the Association’s Annual Marketing Impact Award.
Brakke understands that people are taking an interest in where their food comes from and how it is grown and processed. She is working hard to use social media to get the word out about Black Gold’s sustainable farming practices and their great-tasting potatoes. In August, Brakke invited five of the most popular food bloggers to tour the Black Gold operation in Missouri. The bloggers have nearly 250,000 followers. Those interested in reading the visitors’ blogs or downloading some delicious red potato recipes should go to the “Better with Reds” website at: http://www.betterwithreds.com.
Maybe a comment about the “Better With Reds” website…If Brakke and the rest of the Black Gold Farms team have their way, the “Better with Reds” bandwagon will be leaving the Idaho® Potato in the dust.