Russets rule, but varieties add appeal to Idaho spuds

Russets rule, but varieties add appeal to Idaho spuds

Potatoes may be a dinner-table staple, but they don’t have to be boring, marketers of Idaho potatoes say.

That’s where choice helps out, they say.

“As is the case in any commodity, quality and reliability are king,” said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail/international with the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission

“Idaho is known as the premium russet, partially based on our unique growing conditions and partly because we are the only state to have USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) inspectors in each packaging shed and a strict marketing order that they ensure is followed.”

New varieties are helping expand interest in the category, but russets remain “the force in sales,” Pemsler said.

“I maintain and always have that success on the marketing front in the potato and onion category is simple: Be honest, be consistent with regard to the quality, price and supply,” said Corey Griswold, COO with Hailey, Idaho-based ProSource Inc.

Selling from the source and having the insight of multiple growers is a huge asset, Griswold said.

“We know what is coming, what our volume and quality picture is in the long and short term, and have the ability to regulate supply to ensure commitments are met through any market challenges,” he said. 

From a varietal (russet) standpoint, there is a lot of education that can stand to be done, he said.

“There is a constant stream of new varieties being engineered and consistent improvement to the old staple varieties,” he said. 

He cited the norkotah variety as an example of one that has evolved over the past 10 years.

“We are attaining better yields, higher packouts, higher solids, and better results in the kitchen with them than ever before,” he said.

Reds and yellows continue to be a staple of the consumer’s potato diet, said Eric Beck, marketing director with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based grower-shipper Wada Farms Marketing Group.

“Reds maintain a steady demand, and yellow popularity has increased slightly,” he said. 

“Once again, social media has been a big contributor for generating momentum in this category.”

Influencers such as The Produce Moms are reaching out to consumers of all demographics, helping to educate and encourage them to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, Beck said.

“Potatoes of all varieties are always on the docket as a healthy dietary choice.”

Meanwhile, organic potato sales continue to rise incrementally year over year, said Dallin Klingler, marketing and communications representative with Eagle Eye Produce in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

“The younger generation and a more health conscious consumer tend to lean towards organic potatoes when they are in the produce aisles, and it’s just another way for us to diversify our product in the marketplace,” he said. 

A big contributor to sales growth for organic potatoes is retailers finding ways to source organics year-round, Wada Farms’ Beck said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2018, 2% of total U.S. potato shipments were organic.

“Wada has strategically aligned ourselves to supply quality organic potatoes on a year-round basis, with most of our product coming from Idaho for most of the calendar year,” Beck said. 

Buyers can source conventional and organic potatoes from Wada Farms, Beck said.

“This one-stop solution saves time, money, and provides a superior organic product to the end consumer,” he said.

In terms of varietals, there is a trend toward smaller potatoes, Klingler said.

“Our baby potato output has been steadily increasing for the last few years, and we have increased our acreage to meet the demand,” he said. 

“We think this is linked to the smaller, more convenient pack styles and value-add products in the potato category.”

Eagle Eye also is “investing heavily” in getting its variety program to be a one-source resource, as well, with year-round supplies from a dedicated loading location, Klingler said.

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