Specialty potatoes are gaining in consumer interest. Still, they remain a very small portion of the market.
“We know the specialty potato market is growing, but it’s still a small percentage of the overall industry,” said Kendra Mills, marketing director of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, Charlottetown.
“Still, we don’t want to take anything away from that category. It’s certainly a bright spot with the all the unique varieties and colors,” Mills said.
Still a small share
“Currently, these potato sales are less than one-half of 1% of the entire category assortment,” said John Pope, vice president of sales and marketing at MountainKing Potatoes, Monte Vista, Colo.
The company is promoting its Steakhouse Roaster fingerling product in the hopes of increasing that trade up rate to 5%.
“We’d like to get 5% percent to try fingerlings and have it become a part of their regular shopping trip,” Pope said.
He thinks fingerlings, when marketed right, could do for the potato category what snacking tomatoes did for that commodity.
“We’ve seen the success of some other categories, and we think these roasters can... do the same thing for potatoes,” Pope said.
Boosting overall sales
Pope also has noticed specialty potato sales don’t seem to take away from traditional purchases.
“From what we have been able to see, these are definitely additional sales. We’re not sure if it’s a new customer or a customer that is already purchasing potatoes now also purchasing roasters. We think it’s a little bit of both,” he said.
These additional sales translate to overall category growth and higher profits.
“Fingerlings are still largely undiscovered by mainstream shoppers but are trending up and as we look at the numbers, when more fingerlings are sold, it has a net positive impact on the total commodity,” Pope said.
This type of sales potential has other companies excited as well.
“I think it’s certainly the trend for retailers to head toward more variety in the potato section,” said Steve Phipps, owner of Market Fresh Produce LLC, Nixa, Mo.
Phipps compares the expansion of the potato category to the way apple varieties exploded over the past several years.
Restaurants and recipes
The restaurant industry also helps drive demand with its use of smaller, gourmet-style potatoes, said Jamie Bowen, marketing manager at the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle.
“The purple Peruvian, French fingerling and the Russian banana fingerling are all popular right now,” she said.
Education is still important to promoting lesser-known varieties.
“People are interested in specialty potatoes, particularly new recipe ideas,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.
MountainKing uses recipes to teach consumers how to use its Steakhouse Roaster fingerling product, Pope said.
“We have a recipe for parmesan-roasted oven fries on one side of the package and instructions for use on the other side,” he said.
Still, some consumers may be hesitant to purchase specialty potatoes because of a higher price and the question of what to do with an entire bag of one kind.
To combat this, Ehrlich said some companies now offer a mixed bag of potatoes that include reds, yellows and russets all in the same bag.
“It’s a pretty popular thing, a novel idea, but it’s catching on,” he said.