( Packer File Photo )

As long as the new coronavirus hangs around, bagged potato sales will spike, say marketers of San Luis Valley potatoes.

“Demand has been very strong, because people have learned to cook at home again,” said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.

“The demand for fresh potatoes has increased from 15-30% since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.

The cook-at-home trend is a major factor, said Les Alderete, general manager of Center, Colo.-based Skyline Potato.

“The virus has helped to keep the demands strong for the retail section; as people stay home they fix more meals at home, which has been a big boost,” he said.

Packaged product is selling briskly, said Kevin Wright, director of account management-West with Bancroft, Wis.-based grower-shipper RPE Inc.

“Demand on bag potatoes has been very strong and maintaining higher than normal sales by a good margin,” he said. 

The virus is only one factor in that strong demand, though, Wright said.

“Bag potatoes always have and always will be a price value for our customers and end consumers,” he said. 

“If you now include demand from all of the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) programs, it will be interesting to see how these programs affect sales at retail.”

The USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program has fed the increase in packaged potato sales, said Art Miller, owner of Phoenix, Ariz.-based Epic Produce Sales, which markets spuds from the San Luis Valley.

“I think that’s already started with the box program,” he said. 

“More of those people are taking 5- and 10-pound bags. If the schools and restaurants are going to stay limited or closed, people are going to be buying from the grocery stores, so the demand is already up for the 5- and 10-pounders.”

Jamey Higham, CEO and president of Monte Vista-based Farm Fresh Direct LLC, said he had noticed a rise in bagged potato sales.

“It has increased it to some degree; the loose or bulk potato business has been hurt a little at retail,” he said. 

“I think shoppers feel safe with packaged goods versus those that may have been handled or touched at the point of sale.”

Bags are part of an overall increase in potato sales during the pandemic, said Jed Ellithorpe, marketing director at Center, Colo.-based Aspen Produce LLC.

“Demand on all things retail is up substantially, as well as consumer direct sales,” he said.

Shoppers seem to be looking for manageable package sizes, said Bill Metz, co-owner of Monte Vista-based grower-shipper Metz Potato Co. LLC.

“We’ve seen in the warehouse on our consumer pack is a lot of 5- and 4-pounders, so I think the consumer is buying but buying less,” he said. “Ten- to 20-pounders are kind of a thing of the past.”

Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group is seeing a similar pull on bagged product, said Eric Beck, marketing director.

“As more consumers rediscover the joys of eating at home on both a culinary and economic standpoint, we are seeing more pressure come about for more bagged SKUs (stock-keeping units) in the marketplace,” Beck said. 

“We’ll see how long this plays out, as medical professionals work to eradicate COVID-19. We anticipate consumers will still maintain their shift to eating at home even when we approach a new normal.” 


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