Although demand for specialties is growing with the category, fingerlings can be a risky crop to grow.
“It costs three times as much to grow fingerlings than russets, and the trade expects the spuds to be perfect,” Lake said. “But that’s probably the biggest feather in our cap. Our quality is better than anybody’s.”
In late August, Southwind was shipping Russian bananas, both jumbo and small, and some French fingerlings with yellow flesh, but was waiting for red thumbs and purples until late September. The company also packs under the Exotic Gourmet label. Lake said most of its products at the moment are going into Los Angeles.
Specialty potatoes can be hard for some russet packer-shippers to process, as they require a separate packing line because of their different parameters, but several of the larger Idaho shippers are also making specialties available.
“Specialties are something we’re very into — a good part of our business,” said Jayme Higham, vice president of business development and foodservice for Potandon Produce LLC, Idaho Falls.
Potandon ships the Klondike Rose, a red-skinned, yellow-fleshed potato, and the Klondike Gold Dust, which has both yellow skin and flesh. It also has a line of miniature yellow, purples and reds.
Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice, said the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle, has been talking to food editors about Idaho’s specialty potatoes.
Many chefs buy specialty potatoes in their local markets, which are only available for a limited time, Odiorne said.
“They’re only available a limited time of the season, and this is a great way to expand the season,” Odiorne said.
Last year, fingerlings from Idaho were available August through May, he said.
“It’s a lot longer season than what you’d have locally,” Odiorne said.
“We’ve been doing a fair amount of reds, and have for years,” said Gary Garnand, president of Garnand Marketing LLC, Twin Falls. “They are asking for the reds, and starting to ask for the yellows.”
Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, is dabbling in specialties, said Kevin Stanger, vice president of sales and marketing.
“We are going a small amount of acreage of specialty crops that’ll be ready for harvest in September,” Stanger said late August.
Wilcox Fresh, however, stopped growing specialty potatoes this year.
“We usually grow some reds, a few fingerlings, but we didn’t this year,” said Lynn Wilcox, president of the Rexburg-based company.
This is the first year in six that the company hasn’t grown specialties, Wilcox said.
“We had a hard time giving away our red potatoes last year, so we got discouraged,” Wilcox said. “As luck would have it, we probably would have been happy to have them this year.”
The company still buys and repacks red potatoes for its customers.
“We’ve got some reds from California still now,” Wilcox said late August.