A large group of consumers looks to branch out from the traditional potato varieties found at grocery stores.
“There’s certainly an increase in demand for unique varieties, and people want to identify with a particular named variety as well. They want to know the name of the variety to be able to go back and purchase it again,” said Greg Donald, general manager, Prince Edward Island Potato Board.
Mike Carter, chief executive officer for Bushmans’ Inc, Rosholt, Wis., agrees.
“We’ve absolutely seen consumers more interested in more varieties. There are consumers out there who are very interested in new kinds of potatoes and then learning the uses for those kinds of varieties,” Carter said.
Carter, a member of the U.S. Potato Board, says the organization is trying to reach consumers to convey those messages.
“There’s a segment looking for new ways to prepare what some people see as kind of mundane thing, and the board uses resources to get that segment the information they need,” he said.
For Richard Leibowitz, managing director, Specialty Potato Alliance, the secret to introducing new customers to specialty potato varieties is in the taste.
The alliance is made up of a combination of growers and distributors with the purpose of marketing fingerling potatoes more effectively. They have several proprietary varieties, including the Rocky Rose, a pink-skinned fingerling potato with a yellow flesh.
To help promote their specialty fingerling varieties, Leibowitz says the group focuses on educating consumers by writing articles and participating in food shows, such as the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit, where they offered samples to attendees to show how these new varieties can be cooked.
Suppliers believe there will likely always be a market for traditional offerings, but that the market does appear to be more open for new varieties at the retail level.
“Consumers have different likes and dislikes and different groups prefer specialty items versus the traditional ten-pound bag,” said Chris Wada, director of marketing, Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“Potatoes are a staple and one of the best values in the produce department,” he said. “Traditional items are always going to be a staple. Specialty items are always changing, and there’s a niche for just about everything.”
Wada Farms recently released a line of mini red and mini gold potatoes in a 1.5-pound bag.