Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hot potatoes and great blogging - Part 2

With all the entrepreneurial frenzy we've stirred up surrounding the commercial possibilities of making big bucks out of potatoes it's easy to forget their excellent culinary properties. So let's pause for a moment and think about the last time you gorged yourself upon the humble tattie.

What kind of gastronomic experience was it for you? Did your taste buds tingle? Did you salivate with delight as you regarded the mountainous mashed confection in front of you? Or was the experience more akin to stuffing your mouth with cotton wool? If you bought your spuds from a supermarket I suspect the latter.

The trouble with most commercially grown potatoes is that in seeking high yields and uniformity of shape the taste of the tattie has been largely ignored. So much so that I rarely buy potatoes from a supermarket any more, preferring to grow my own. I like to seek out rare and unusual varieties where taste is paramount. Needless to say, the internet has revolutionised the way I buy my seed potatoes. Heirloom varietes that a few years ago were almost extinct are now available at the touch of a button. My favourite three varieties are currently Ratte (an old French salad variety), Edsell Blues (difficult to cook but superb flavour) and Pink Fir Apple (waxy, nutty and bursting with flavour). These potatoes beat supermarket varieties hands down.

So, here's the next lesson in launching your new business - make sure your core product or service is the best around, a world-beater in fact.

Which brings me finally to the core concept you need to grasp if you're ever going to be successful in business or blogging. In fact, this next concept is probably the most important thing I'll ever tell you in this blog, so PAY ATTENTION. The fundamental, paramount secret to starting a succesful business is a concept called DIFFERENTIATION. Let me say that again. DIFFERENTIATION.

If you can only remember this one concept out of all the things I've ever propounded on this blog then I promise you you'll never go hungry again. The philosophical underpinnings of this concept are actually quite complicated but, put simply, it means that your business - or your blog - needs to be DIFFERENT and BETTER if it's going to have any chance of establishing itself in the market place. Note the BETTER. That's a key attribute and the toughest one to achieve.


Got it? Good. Phew.

Okay. At this point let's return to that lecture I was giving in the previous post. Ranged in front of me are two hundred keen final year MBA students. I'm standing there holding out the plastic bag of potatoes in front of me. I'm about to pose a question to the assembled audience and at this moment it's the natural intelligence of the potato pitted against the collective wisdom of the crowd. Usually, it's a pretty finely balanced contest.

"Can anybody tell me," I intone hopefully, "Exactly how the producers of this bag of potatoes have attempted to differentiate their product?"

Well, you can't see that bag of potatoes but really the answer is obvious. Not so to the crowd. After a lot of kerfuffling the answer eventually emerges. The packagers of the potatoes have labelled their produce as a specific, named variety. In this case, Kerr's Pink. Previously the big potato producers hadn't bothered much with labelling and dismissively named their product White potatoes, or boiling potatoes, or baking potatoes etc. Commodity descriptions for a commodity product. At this point in gastronomic history potato lovers the world over were gnashing their teeth in despair.

And then suddenly the big potato producers woke up to the commercial possibilities of their product. No-one knows why. Maybe it was the threat posed by the growing popularity of pasta. perhaps rice was perceived as a threat, noodles probably less so. Whatever the reason the big wholesalers suddenly started differentiating their product by selling us named varieties and, naturally, charging premium prices.

But of course this attempt at differentiation is a completely spurious application of the concept, pretty close to "passing off" in fact. Because in this case the potato variety is the same commercial variety it has always been, there is no value added, and the ploy is purely a marketing gimmick. In short, the producers have traduced the integrity of the potato brand and ultimately undermined the true value of the noble species, Solanum Tuberosum.

Next thing you know they'll be selling us named varieties of carrots.

Tomorrow I'll bring the tale of the tuber to a triumphant conclusion.


  1. Anonymous11:25 am

    Interesting stuff Bill, but not for me. I have no interest in promoting my blog, especially if it takes effort. I'm happy to remain in virtual obscurity; just me, my small band of regular readers, and occasional traffic. I fancy myself as champion of the honourable traditions of 'Idling' and 'apathy'. Okay, it's true they promote little in the way of recognition, but they stave off stomach ulcers and increase your chances of sleeping nights. Still, it's another good 'tater' post Bill, and I've learned something. You were joking though, weren't you, with the names? Kerr's Pink and Edsell Blues? They made me laugh bringing to mind the Python dead parrot sketch:

    'Ello, I wish to register a complaint (The owner does not respond.)

    'Ello, Miss?

    What do you mean "miss"?

    I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

    We're closin' for lunch.

    Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this potato what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

    Oh yes, the, uh, the Edsell Blue...What's,uh...What's wrong with it?

  2. Anonymous4:02 pm

    My parents grow their own spuds - they taste kind of nutty and come in all shapes and sizes...

    Yep, nothing like a bit of home produce.

  3. Don, those are real names for potato varieties. You couldn't make it up, could you.

    Hi Julia, thanks for dropping by - I enjoy your blog - very witty. I'm probably as old as your parents which might explain the mutual interest in tubers of the edible variety.