Over the holidays, a cousin told me a story he had heard while watching the History of the Spud. Not sure what compelled him to watch such a show, but a very unusual marketing story came from it! Back in the olden days (like the really olden 1745 kind of days), potatoes were thought of as food only fit for animals. One man, named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, a botanist and a military chemist disagreed. He thought that potatoes could eliminate famine and won an award for his work on the subject. However, he still had to “Capture the Customer” and convince his country-men (and women!) that potatoes were fit for human consumption. And so was born a remarkable tale (a true one though) of marketing …..
Mr. Parmentier persuaded the King of his country (France as it so happens) to encourage cultivation of potatoes. The King let him plant 100 useless acres outside Paris, France in potatoes with troops keeping the field heavily guarded. All the military guards aroused public curiosity and the people decided that anything so carefully guarded must be valuable. One night Parmentier allowed the guards to go off duty, and the local farmers, as he had hoped, went into the field, confiscated the potatoes and planted them on their own farms. From this small start, the habit of growing and eating potatoes spread. It is said that Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), Queen of France and married to Louis XVI, often pinned potato flowers in her curls. Because of her, ladies of the era wore potato blossoms in their hair.
A perception of both scarcity and value persuaded the people of the fabulousness of the potato. Today, celebrities use a product and sales skyrocket. If it is coveted and protected by those in power, a product must be valuable. I would have to say that I agree with Parmentier though. Potatoes are pretty darn fabulous, particularly when made into french fries!