(Dec. 4) Although the majority of the potatoes grown in the U.S. are russets, specialties and smaller categories remain an important and growing segment of the potato population.
“The specialty market seems to be already growing, but it’s such a small percentage of the crop, so a small number of acres ends up being a big percentage,” said Kevin Stanger, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls. Wada Farms markets potatoes and onions.
Ron McCormick, vice president and divisional merchandising manager for produce and floral for Wal-Mart, said some suppliers are having some success selling the different varieties of potatoes for different use occasions. Any growth that exists in the potato category exists in specialties, he said.
“Reds are the current darling of consumers, driven by TV cooking shows and restaurant menus,” McCormick said.
New potato varieties are always being tested in Washington, said Matt Harris, director of trade for the Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission.
“In small quantities, one could find purple-skinned, yellow-fleshed potatoes this year, or a multitude of fingerling-type potatoes,” Harris said. “Russets, reds, white-type and yellow-flesh are still the predominate potato varieties grown in the state.”
Frank Muir, chief executive officer for the Idaho Potato Commission, said specialties from Idaho have only been available the last five years, but that the state now grows all kinds of specialties.
“We’re seeing increased availability this fall for fingerlings, reds and creamers,” Muir said.
Specialty potatoes have been available in the foodservice side of the industry for longer than they have at retail, Muir said.
“Retailers are picking up on what they (restaurants) are doing,” Muir said.
Specialties that are moving at retail right now are reds and golds, said Jerry Wright, president and chief executive officer of Idaho Falls, Idaho-based United Potato Growers of Idaho.
“Specialty potatoes are the ones that are growing in stores,” Wright said. “Penetration into reds is probably the fastest in Idaho. You can expect to see Idaho expand.”
Volume from the Red River Valley is up from last year, said Paul Dolan, general manager of Associated Potato Growers inc., Grand Forks, N.D. Demand, however, is down a little from last year.
“We attribute that to higher prices at retail and a poor economy,” Dolan said. “Prices are higher than last year at this time. I would say prices are 50% higher than last year.” Dolan attributed the price hike to increased production and freight costs and market unity.