A sluggish economy hasn’t dented foodservice demand for Wisconsin potatoes.
“The baked potato isn’t going anywhere,” said Mike Carter, chief executive officer of Bushman’s Inc., Roshold, Wis. “Foodservice business has been pretty consistent. There’s still good movement of the potatoes we sell specifically for making mashed potatoes, too.”
Randy Shell, vice president of marketing and new business development for Bancroft, Wis.-based RPE Inc., said foodservice demand actually is on an upswing.
“We believe this trend will continue throughout the coming year,” he said. “Although the russet potato is the core item for foodservice, foodservice companies are really ramping up purchases on all varieties and offering more specialty potatoes as part of their assortments.”
Wisconsin’s crop is expected to be above the five-year average after two below-average years.
“Our foodservice business is consistent,” said Tom Lundgren, owner of Stevens Point-based Spud City Sales. “All of it is supply driven. Lower yields the last two years in Wisconsin created an interesting marketing situation when it came to foodservice. There were often cheaper options from other growing regions, so we had to get creative in our approach. Higher yields — really, a return to trend yields this year should help our foodservice business out of Wisconsin return to normal.”
French fries remain a staple of the restaurant industry, though the vast majority of that product moves through the supply chain frozen. A few chains — most notably Five Guys Burgers and Fries — have won over customers with fries made from fresh potatoes.
“We’ve talked to outlets that are interested in that,” Carter said, “but so far only a few have been able to pull it off. There are customers looking at that concept.”