Associated Potato Growers installs grader

Associated Potato Growers Inc., one of the largest fresh red potato packing cooperatives in the Midwest, has added a grader-sorter — the third of its kind — to its operation.

“We now have these machines in all three of our plants,” said Paul Dolan, general manager of the Grand Forks, N.D.-based company. “They make the plants more efficient and allow us to give more consistent quality to our customers.”

LED lighting pregrades potatoes by color, he said, so the role of the human sorters at the end of the line becomes one of fine-tuning.

The demand for small consumer packs, mostly 5-pound, continues to grow, said Dolan, along with the demand for private labeling.

Cohn Farms to bring parisiennes to the U.S.

A grower, packer and processor in Ontario’s Holland Marsh plans to introduce the U.S. market to his small round parisienne potatoes.

"We’re producing 120,000 pounds a week,” said Larry Cohn, president of Cohn Farms, “but we could easily triple our capacity.”

The perfect rounds, roasted until golden, are now a familiar sight in Loblaws and No Frills supermarket deli counters in Ontario, where they’re sold with roast chicken.

Cohn offers a 22-pound bag for foodservice and institutions.

Cohn began selling 1-pound bags of parisiennes at retail a year ago, and now sells about 20,000 a month, he said.

F.W. Ward expands foodservice business

An excellent crop and new equipment in its rebuilt plant in the Saguenay Lac St.-Jean region of northern Quebec have allowed Montreal-based potato grower, packer and shipper F.W. Ward to expand into foodservice and increase exports.

“We can now do any pack imaginable, in any format,” said president Patrick Peschlow. “We also have special cleaning techniques and a new count line that uses electronic and laser technology so we can deliver a box to foodservice with every potato the same size.”

The company’s aggressive marketing in the northeast U.S. and the Caribbean has led to a dramatic rise in exports, he said, much faster than sales to Quebec retailers.

Farm Fresh Direct to introduce fingerlings

The Express Bake potato, which launched a category in 2001, is adding a new microwaveable product to its line.

Express Bake’s fingerling medley, 14 ounces of red, yellow and purple fingerling potatoes in a shrink-wrapped, compostable and microwaveable tray, is being considered by three retailers in the Midwest, Southeast and west, said general manager Tim Wall of Farm Fresh Direct in Monte Vista, Colo.

“We’re hoping it will be out for January,” Wall said.

Fingerlings made sense because they’re incredibly popular on food shows and chefs are using them, he said.

“People don’t know what to do with them, so we made it really simple.”

When the value-added category “took a nose dive” last year, the seven-minute Express Bake barely dropped in sales, he said, but it has lost market share to copycats.

Surveys show it has an average 84% consumer repurchase rate after the initial trial.

The potato supply dramatically affects the retail price, Wall said. Express Bake russets currently average 99 cents to $1.09 across the country, with a low of 79 cents and a high of $1.29.

National Potato Council plans annual expo

Vegas showgirls will share the stage with talks on zebra potato chip disease and acrylamide in processed potato products at the third Potato Expo Jan. 5-7 in Las Vegas.

Organizers say the conference, expected to attract more than 1,200 industry participants, is the largest conference and trade show for the North American potato industry.

The keynote speaker is NFL legend Terry Bradshaw, who is scheduled to talk about what it takes to be successful. The following day, Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson will discuss the 2010 midterm elections and beyond.

Potato Expo is sponsored by the National Potato Council and the U.S. Potato Board.

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Potandon Produce develops varieties

The colorful new varieties that generated excitement at the Potandon Produce booth this fall at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Orlando aren’t quite ready for their close-up.

“People loved them,” said David Wheeler, new products and marketing manager for Potandon, Idaho Falls, Idaho, “but the varieties we took to PMA won’t be ready for the commercial market for another year or two.”

It takes seven years to bring a test variety into commercial production, Wheeler said.

“Those that don’t make the cut are kicked out.”

By the time popular varieties like Klondike Rose — red-skinned with gold flesh — and Golddust hit the market, the company knew they tasted great, they were going to work in the sheds and consumers would love them.

A value-added microwaveable bag of mini potatoes with roasted garlic sauce has also been a winner, he said.

As part of its foray into e-marketing, Potandon has launched a dedicated website.