IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Specialties continue to make inroads in the Idaho potato deal.
Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC opened a new dedicated specialty potato packing line in 2013, and this year the company is following up with a new line of miniature potatoes, said Chris Wada, the company’s director of marketing and exports.
The line comes in mini red and mini gold varieties and is branded Smalls artisan mini potatoes.
The potatoes come in 1.25-pound bags, the back of which contains a vintage-looking illustrated mini-history of Wada Farms and preparation instructions.
“We tested it last year, and this year we’re ready to roll it out,” Wada said. “In the last six to seven years we’ve grown our red and gold facility, and we worked with a number of breeders to find mini varieties.”
Wada Farms doubled its mini volumes in the past year and increased its red and gold production by about 20%, Wada said.
Wada Farms’ mini potatoes are predominantly targeted to retail, said Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Minis and other varieties are on the rise as russet production trends slightly down, Stanger said.
Potandon Produce tapped into new varieties to “energize the category,” said Ralph Schwartz, the company’s vice president of marketing, sales and innovation.
Eleven years ago, Potandon introduced the Klondike Rose. It’s a variety that continues to perform well for the company, and one of its descendents, the Klondike Express, should continue to live up to its name in 2014-15, Schwartz said.
“We’re seeing 20% to 30% growth month after month. It’s like a runaway train.”
The Klondike Express is a microwaveable 1-pound pack of baby potatoes that comes in two varieties: red (Klondike Rose) and yellow (Kondike Goldust) potatoes.
Joining Potandon’s variety line this winter will be the Klondike Desert Gold, Schwartz said. The Desert Gold is a russet variety with yellow flesh.
All Heyburn-based Southwind Farms does is fingerlings, said Robert Tominaga, president. This year’s crop is tracking pretty closely with russets, Tominaga said.
“It’s an average crop — kind of like the russets, a little smaller. Yields are average, maybe slightly up.”
Southwind will ship what Tominaga calls three categories of fingerlings this year. At one of the end of the spectrum are minis, spuds 2 inches long and smaller.
At the other end are jumbos, five inches and bigger. In the middle are the “premium” fingerlings ranging from 2 inches to 4½ inches long, Tominaga said.
Southwind expects to ship about 60% premiums, 25% minis and 15% jumbos this season.
The company ships Russian banana, purple fiesta and other fingerling varieties in yellow, purple and red.
Russet production should be fairly stable this year for Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh, said Rob Rydalch, supply coordinator.
Where the company is seeing a slight increase is in specialty production. Wilcox Fresh is growing a new variety, the ludmilla, on a test basis this year.
“We had requests from a customer for it,” Rydalch said.
The ludmilla looks like an elongated russet on the outside, but on the inside it’s creamy-fleshed.
The interested customer specializes in potato salad. He liked the fact that it’s creamy-fleshed but doesn’t roll down inclined packing and sorting lines like a round potato.
“He wanted burbanks, but we don’t dig burbanks here until Sept. 19-20,” Rydalch said.
Rydalch hopes it takes off like other specialty varieties.
“There’s quite a market for varieties like the idared, he said. Everybody’s looking for a niche.”
Wilcox Fresh’s story of stable russet production but increased specialty production is mirrored industry-wide to some extent, Rydalch said.
“A lot of varieties are being grown that are taking the place of russets.”
That said, Wilcox Fresh does continue to experiment with new, better russet varieties, Rydalch said. New varieties of norkotahs, for example, take less time to grow — some fields that used to harvest around Labor Day are now producing by Aug. 18.
“That’s extremely early,” Rydalch said.
Wilcox Fresh is a “russet facility,” he said, designed specifically to handle russets, though the company does sell reds “off an on.”
The company’s customers get many of their reds and other varieties from other shippers that specialize in those varieties.
The Wilcox family does own a shed it talks about turning into a shed focusing on varietals, but that hasn’t happened yet, Rydalch said.
Wilcox Fresh buys about a half dozen pallets per work of specialty potatoes from other shippers that it puts on the back of its trucks, to be delivered with its russets, Rydalch said.
For Aberdeen-based Pleasant Valley Potatoes Inc., the main roadblock to shipping non-russet varieties is capacity in the company’s shed.
“We’ve grown other varieties in the past, and we’re not opposed to it,” said Ryan Wahlen, the company’s sales manager.
The problem is, the company’s russet business has been so good, it would have to either cut back on russets or build a second packinghouse to handle other varieties, Wahlen said.