The majority of potatoes sold at retail typically go home in 4- and 5-pound bags, but in the midst of a recession that wasn’t the case.
During the 52-week period that ended in September 2009, bargain potatoes — 8- and 10-pound bags — had surged 12.5% in total pounds, 15% in units and nearly 16% in total dollars.
That trend appears to be over. Average retail prices for potatoes increased more than 16% in 2011, making it difficult for consumers to stock up and challenging for retailers to offer large-pack promotions.
According to data prepared for the U.S. Potato Board by the Nielsen Perishables Group, sales of large potato bags dropped nearly 15% last year.
“What we’re seeing is a shift,” said Kathleen Triou, vice president of domestic marketing for the U.S. Potato Board, Denver.
“People are buying what they’re going to consume. They’re not stocking up. They’re not going to buy a 10-pound bag. They’re going to buy a 5-pound bag.”
Triou said that while overall potato volume is down, it doesn’t necessarily mean people are buying potatoes less often.
“What we don’t know is if some people are still buying potatoes every time they shop, but they switched from 10- to 5-pound bags,” she said.
“It’s an important piece of the puzzle.”
Don Ladhoff, retail program consultant for the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, said it makes sense that shoppers would gravitate to smaller bags because
- smaller bags often hit price points;
- premium and specialty potatoes — which are experiencing increased demand — come in small packages; and
- smaller sizes are ideal for shoppers who are trying something new.
Dick Okray, president of Okray Family Farms Inc., Plover, Wis., said U.S. families are smaller than they used to be, and people are shopping more often.
“People are buying what they want when they want it,” he said.
Though sales of bargain potatoes are down nationally, they remain popular with some shoppers. Senior buyer Joe Santoro said he had seen a marginal shift to smaller bags at Nino Salvaggio International Markets, St. Clair Shores, Mich., but he added that “the 10-pound Idaho potatoes bags are still king in our potato category.”
Likewise, Shannon Patten, media and community relations manager for Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., said sales of large-size potato bags have remained steady.