“As product moves from being an idea, to test marketing, to introduction to the mainstream market, we can get things out where people can try the product. The more we move from being commodity-driven to market-driven, the better off we will be.”
Ladhoff said though there may not be a potato that can do for spuds what the Honeycrisp did for apples, something less dramatic could still drive sales.
For example, he said that though bicolor sweet corn tastes similar to regular yellow sweet corn, the two-tone corn has boosted retail sales based on appearance.
“It looks different,” he said. “That approach could work for potatoes.”
Data prepared for the U.S. Potato Board by the Nielsen Perishables Group indicates that retailers aren’t the only ones looking for something new.
More demand for specialties
Specialty potatoes — such as fingerlings, purples and gemstones — increased their share of category dollars 40.8% in 2011 while their share of category volume increased 52.3%.
“That segment of the potato category is growing dramatically,” said Ladhoff, who said six of the 10 fastest growing potato items — by volume and dollar sales — are specialty products.
Specialties still represent just 1% of the potato category’s overall volume.
“Consumers are becoming more aware of newer varieties,” said Kathleen Triou, the potato board’s vice president of domestic marketing.
“They’re getting bolder. They’re looking for inspiration, and they’re finding it in those newer varieties. That’s good news. It keeps the category new and fresh.”
Shannon Patten, media and community relations manager for Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., said sales of small premium potatoes in 12- to 28-ounce packages are increasing at a rapid rate.
“These potatoes are not usually on our customers’ shopping lists,” Patten said, “but when they’re advertised it gives them the opportunity to try something new, and the results have been positive. Our customers enjoy the variety, and we are seeing a strong interest in these niche items.”
Patten said individually wrapped, microwaveable potatoes also continue to grow in popularity.
Senior buyer Joe Santoro said sales of fingerlings are up at least 10% compared to a year ago at Nino Salvaggio International Markets, St. Clair Shores, Mich. He said the retailer’s chefs also have created popular fingerling recipes in the prepared foods department.