Spud packaging offers avenue for diversification

09/14/2011 09:40:00 AM
Tara Schupner

In Colorado's San Luis Valley, packaging variety provides an opportunity for shippers to offer something different.

Russets are the major variety grown in the San Luis Valley.

The specialty market is a small portion of the valley’s potato business, said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee, Monte Vista.

He expects it to grow, though, but said growers are apprehensive about planting too many and flooding the market.

About 2% of the valley’s acreage is yellow potatoes this year, Ehrlich said. Most of those are Yukon golds.

Cañon Potato Co., Center, Colo., markets russet, red and yellow potatoes, said David Tonso, partner.

The market for yellow potatoes grew for several years but has been stable for the past couple of years, he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported in its Aug. 25 Vegetables and Melons Outlook that preliminary production figures are lower this year in Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.

North Dakota’s production is expected to increase and Michigan’s is expected to remain the same, but the central region’s overall production is estimated at about 7% less than last year.

Smaller packs catching on

There may be more variety in packaging than in the types of potatoes grown in the valley.

The trend is to offer consumers a variety of pack sizes, Ehrlich said.

Smaller pack sizes are becoming more popular, he said, with individually wrapped bakers and three-packs of bakers selling more often.

Still, with the slow economy, the 10-pound bag is important in some markets because it offers a good value, Ehrlich said.

However, sales of 10-pound bags decrease in some markets when potato prices rise, perhaps because consumers are cutting back on their per-trip budgets.

Ten-pound bags sell better when potato prices are low, Tonso said.

Most of Cañon Potato’s packs are 5- and 10-pound bags.

Five- and 10-pound bags also are the main packs for the Monte Vista Potato Grower Co-op Association, Monte Vista, said Steve Tillman, manager.

The co-op packs all sizes, though, from three-pounders to 2,000-pound totes.

Grower-shipper Worley & McCullough Inc., Monte Vista, packs 5-, 8, 10-, 15- and 20-pound bags — basically anything its customers want, said Trampas McCormick, manager.

Customers in different regions prefer different sizes of bags, he said.

While Worley & McCullough is capable of packing 3-pound bags, McCormick said it doesn’t do so because few customers want that size.

Instead, they prefer larger value-sized bags.

Bill Metz, owner, Metz Potato Co. LLC, Monte Vista, said it was difficult to say what would happen with potato packs because each year is different.

What’s hot one year might not be the next year.

“It’s interesting,” he said.



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