SAN ANTONIO — While traditional potato types, such as whites and russets, are struggling to maintain consumer sales, specialty potatoes are enjoying double-digit growth at retail.

With an inventory of more than 200 seed potato varieties and more in the pipeline, Preston Stanley, manager of the Colorado Certified Potato Growers Association, said he’s optimistic about the future.

“We can put color on your plate,” he said. “We can put excitement on your plate like you’ve never had.”

Stanley showed off some of the Monte Vista-based group’s offerings including the Purple Majesty, Red Luna, Midnight Moon, Russian Banana and Masquerade — at the Potato Expo, Jan. 8-10.

The association partners with Colorado State University on variety development, he said.

The university’s breeders do the actual crosses, selections and early field trials before bringing in the association.

The 36 growers in the association then get to test out the varietal candidates for two to three years.

“If they like them, then CSU turns them over to the Colorado Certified Potato Association. Then we become the owners of them,” Stanley said.

The association typically renames the variety, replacing a numbered moniker with one that’s more commercially acceptable, such as Purple Majesty or Red Luna.

The association also collects a royalty of 50 cents for every 100 pounds of seed potatoes sold, returning it to the university to support the potato breeding program.

Roger Mix of Mix Farms, Center, Colo., produces for both the seed and fresh markets, and said he believed many of the new varieties mesh well with changing consumer tastes.

“I think consumers are wanting something new,” Mix said. “I think they’re also looking for flavor and nutrition.
“One of the biggest things is preparation time. They want something that they can make that has different tastes but doesn’t take a long time. I think the consumers are always looking for new ideas and flavors.”

In 2010, Mix was president of the National Potato Council and hosted a tour of Environmental Protection Agency representatives on his farm.

As part of the event, Mix said he served barbecue and the Purple Majesty variety made into simple potato salads.

The deep purple tuber created a stir among the guests, who were surprised to learn about the wide variety of potatoes produced.

As a certified seed potato producer, Mix gets a look at new varieties before they hit the commercial market. In his role, he takes a small number of seed potatoes from CSU’s breeding program and plants and harvests them under a specific protocol, thereby increasing the amount of seed that’s available to commercial growers the following year.

Mix said he wants potato varieties that are less susceptible to pests and easy to grow. But he was quick to point out that they also must have consumer traits, such as better flavor or nutritional characteristics, to be viable.

“It has to be something that the grower can produce and the end product something that the consumer is wanting to buy,” Mix said. “They go hand in hand.”