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HZPC: 'Ready to grow in North America'

HZPC: 'Ready to grow in North America'

Potatoes in the United States and Canada are a commodity. When selecting varieties, the color of the skin tends to be the primary consideration.

As the new managing director of HZPC Americas Corp, Jeff Scramlin sees opportunities to increase market share by highlighting the distinguishing characteristics such as cooking types, flavors, and textures.

These efforts should help to de-commoditize potatoes, create demand, and increase value through the chain in North America.

Jeff Scramlin, Managing Director of HZPC Americas Corp:
 
“When people outside the potato sector ask me what I do for work, I often respond by asking them what their favorite apple is.”

“Nine out of ten people immediately name a specific variety. Most can often also explain why they find this to be the best and what recipes they use it for.”

“If I ask the same question about their favorite potato, however, they often look surprised or respond with “Idaho.”

“Potatoes are grown in Idaho, but it's a State and not a variety! This type of reaction clearly shows how much we can still achieve with our business.”

“My objective for the future is to ensure that nine out of ten people can easily talk about their favorite potato variety.”

The new managing director worked for several years in our North American branch: Jeff began there in August 2017 as head of business development.

The commercially driven American has been familiar with farming since his youth; he grew up as the third generation on his family's vegetable farm and then moved to North Carolina to enter the sweet potato sector.

There, he quickly applied his trading and chain-focussed approach to sales, operations, product management, and business development.

Jeff Scramlin:
 
“At that moment, I had no idea about breeding, variety development, and seed production.”

“As far as I was concerned, growers and packers were the first links in the value chain.”

“Since working at HZPC, my perspective has completely changed; I now understand how much work is done before seed potatoes ever go into the ground to produce ware potatoes.”

“With this newly acquired knowledge, I see a whole range of opportunities to capitalize more effectively on market needs and trends.”

New food trends

Over the past few years, Jeff has reveled in business development and has largely set the tone for the SBDA Foodservice project. He engaged in research and investigative dialogue with the foodservice sector, from suppliers to restaurant owners and chefs.

Jeff Scramlin:
 
“This gave insights into their issues, e.g. regarding consistency, but we also identified the various opportunities among businesses in this sector.”

“With respect to consumers, they could use potatoes to really make a difference if they focussed on suitable varieties and refreshing food pairings.”

“Just about 70% of consumer food trends begin in the foodservice sector. When their tasty menus tempt the public, the retail sector often follows their lead with potato products for home preparation.”
The efforts regarding the Foodservice project initiated several interesting developments. Last year, for example, a large quick-service restaurant chain in North America decided to differentiate by introducing yellow-fleshed French fries and that's quite something in a fries market that is dominated by white-fleshed Russet varieties.

Jeff Scramlin:
 
“Another promising effect of the Foodservice project is the collaboration with large public and private universities regarding their food programs.”

“By using potatoes as the main ingredient and zooming in on the flavor, combination options, and nutritional value, we can influence ideas about potatoes and the eating habits of the younger generations.”

“Due to the impact of coronavirus, these projects have unfortunately been delayed, but we will certainly develop the various pathways this year.”

Passion for the potato

In the meantime, Jeff began his first season as managing director of HZPC Americas Corp in September 2019; he succeeded Fred Koops who retired.
  Jeff Scramlin:
 
“I feel honoured to represent the HZPC stakeholders in this market. My new role is perfect for me because I am a builder by nature and in North America, we are certainly ready to grow.”

“My predecessors have built a strong foundation here; we work alongside great growers and have customers who recognize our added value.”

“Since I started, I have updated my team with people who have a genuine passion for the potato.”

“In order to double our market share in five years, and that's our goal, we need comprehensive expertise, ideas, and enthusiasm in order to get all we can from our stunning variety portfolio.”
The ambitions of HZPC Americas Corp are far-reaching. How will Jeff tackle this, with a relatively small team of eight employees in the huge continent of North America? 'That's precisely why empowerment within our team was the most important first step', says the new managing director.

Jeff Scramlin:
 
“We need the right people and mindset in order to use the various bases that have been created for us over the past few years and translate these into business.”

“And it's high time for this approach. As HZPC, in North America, we are one of the few private breeding companies with an extensive variety portfolio and seed potato production in all the significant areas.”

“Our new product manager works closely with seed potato growers, R&D, and also our sales team so that we can focus on the right varieties for this global region and, in turn, expand further.”

Cultural shift

According to Jeff, farmers in the United States and Canada do not necessarily lead the field when it comes to growing new varieties. However, once they have embraced a new variety, there is enormous room for growth.

Colomba, for example, is doing really well and may become a leading variety for the fresh market. Other successful varieties include Fabula, Innovator, Mozart, Sifra, and Vivaldi.

Jeff Scramlin:
 
“Nevertheless, it is the old, free races that still dominate the North American market, including Russet Burbank and Yukon Gold.”

“These are our main competitors. This is due to the fact that customers and consumers still primarily choose their potatoes based on skin color and tuber size. But we will do all we can to bring about change in this area.”

“We are building further on the results of our Foodservice market research and new partnerships so that differentiation according to flavor, texture, and cooking type becomes more common. There lies our greatest expansion opportunity.”
Jeff has confidence in the cultural shift regarding potatoes, even though it may take a while.

Jeff Scramlin:
 
“As much as 73% of the population indicates that they eat potatoes at least once a week. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has become real comfort food, however, people see the potato as a blank canvas to which they must add flavor.”

“In North America, they are yet to discover which varieties, flavor sensations, and options they have with respect to potatoes. The younger generations and the increasing influence of different cultures offer a fantastic opportunity to impact dietary trends.”

“Over the coming decade, it is up to us to put the potatoes and our varieties under the spotlights. Marketing and concept branding is therefore an essential part of our growth strategy.”
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