Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer
Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer

At the 2013 Potato Expo in Las Vegas in January, there was a lot of discussion about trying to promote individual potato varieties to the consumer.

Participants pointed to the success the U.S. apple industry has had in introducing varieties to the market.

But the potato industry may want to be careful what it wishes for.

A recent visit to the Save Mart Supermarket in Riverbank, Calif., found a large display of apples along one bank of the produce department.

I could visually differentiate among the red delicious, golden delicious and granny smith varieties because of their distinctive colors.

All the same

But when it came to the sea of blush against yellow background, I was lost trying to identify individual varieties.

In fact, some I thought were different varieties were actually different sizes of the same variety.

I had to look at the small print on each shelf tag to find out if I was looking at a gala, fuji, braeburn, Jazz, jonagold, Cameo or Pink Lady. And nowhere did it tell me the characteristics of each variety.

At a table in the middle of the produce department were more apples, mostly red blush on yellow background.

About the only one that stuck out was Ambrosia, because it was in an adjacent and somewhat eye-catching secondary display adorned with the word “Ambrosia” on it.

A few days later, I visited Raley’s in Modesto, Calif. The apple display was nowhere as large as Save Mart’s. Joining the red delicious, galas and fujis were a few others, including Envy and Honeycrisp.

I’d never heard of Envy before, and nowhere were there shelf-talkers or other point-of-sale materials to educate me about the merits of the variety.

Great unknowns?

A trip to the Modesto Safeway a week later yielded similar results — a display full of mostly red blush varieties, some of which I’d heard of, like Piñata, and some of which were unknowns, like Pacific Rose.

Because I was shopping early in the morning when produce clerks were changing over displays, none had signs. I had to resort to looking at fruit stickers to identify the different varieties.

All the displays were small compared to the one at an HEB Central Market in Plano, Texas, last fall, where I counted more than 40 apple stock-keeping units.

Granted, some were just bagged versus bulk, or conventionally grown versus organic.

But it showed the wide number of apple varieties available. Talk about overwhelming. How does a consumer choose without first tasting when most of the varieties look very similar?

Maybe the apple industry should take a lesson from the National Football League.

On game day, the NFL hands out flip cards to the media that list all of the players on the home and visitor’s teams, their respective numbers, starting positions, weights, heights and colleges.

If they had flip cards for apples, consumers could learn a little bit more about each player.

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