When it comes to moving potatoes in retail stores, 4- and 5-pound bags usually account for at least 70% of category volume.

But with the recession dragging on for more than a year, shoppers are looking for a deal. They’ve found it in 8- and 10-pound bags, or what the Perishables Group refers to as bargain potatoes.

“One of the most interesting things we’ve seen in the past year is the prevalence of bargain potatoes,” said Jana Mickey, senior account manager for the West Dundee, Ill.-based Perishables Group.

“Historically, bargain has been an area without a lot of growth. Over the past year, it’s been holding up the potato category, even in upscale stores. People really see that as a value.”

According to the Perishables Group’s Fresh Facts report for the 52-week period ending Sept. 26, bargain potatoes showed increases of 12.5% in total pounds (730 million), 15% in units (72 million) and 15.8% in total dollars ($237 million).

All other subcategories showed declines in total pounds during the same period with mainstream potatoes, the aforementioned 4- and 5-pound bags, down 0.2%; premium potatoes (3-pound bags) down 8.2%; value-added spuds down 5.8%; and specialty potatoes down 1.8%.

“I think it’s the recession,” Mickey said of the surge in large-bag sales. “I do think promotions might have something to do with it. Retailers are pushing potatoes on bargain.”

While large bags have seen a bump in popularity, the 52-week report showed declines in bulk volume of russets (0.5%), reds (3%) and yellows (2.9%), while whites were up slightly (2.2%).

“We are seeing our poly business continue to outpace last year’s rate,” said Mike Carter, chief executive officer of Bushmans’ Inc., Rosholt, Wis.

“We believe there are several factors for that trend, including the strength and quality of our retail partners and a consumer trend of more home cooked meals.”