The Idaho potato season is well underway, with plenty of supplies for holiday dinners, marketers say.
“Since the beginning of harvest in early August, we have focused on promoting the farms and packing facilities,” said Corey Griswold, COO with Hailey, Idaho-based grower-shipper ProSource Inc.
“Once harvest is complete and everyone settles in, I think this will shake out to be a good market year.”
Demand also is strong from processing potatoes, and that will affect the fresh market, Griswold said.
Any time there is increased demand from the processors it is a positive for the fresh market,” he said.
Growing conditions for this year’s crop were “challenging” and yields are down this year, said Robert Tominaga, president of Heyburn, Idaho-based fingerling grower-shipper Southwind Farms Inc.
However, there is plenty of product available year-round.
“Sizing (is) very good, extremely well shaped,” he said.
Packaging is a key to marketing success, said Dallin Klingler, marketing and communications representative with Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Eagle Eye Produce.
“We are finding success in marketing smaller and more convenient packaging styles,” he said.
That’s something relatively new, he said.
“Ten years ago our biggest items were our 10- and 20-pound bags, and now we are seeing that 3-pound and 5-pound are our biggest sellers.”
Eagle Eye also has invested heavily in new packing technology for steam bags, microwaveable trays, fresh-cut potatoes, single-wrap baker potatoes and other items, Klingler said.
“Consumers today are not meal planning like they used to; modern consumers, for the most part, impulse buy or plan meals for the next day or two,” he said.
That also plays into the pressure the processing side of the business applies to the fresh market, Klingler said.
“Processing demand in the produce industry is strong,” he said.
“Consumers want convenient, ready-to-cook options. We are trying to provide these convenient, value-add products, like our Steam’d bags, and Tiny Taters without compromising the freshness of our product.”
Retailers are playing some interesting cards this holiday season with how the two major holidays land on the calendar for 2019, said Eric Beck, marketing director with Idaho Falls-based Wada Farms Marketing Group.
“Thanksgiving is as late as it gets this year, falling on the last Thursday in November (Nov. 28), which, in turn, puts less shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Beck said.
“We are seeing retailers strategizing to optimize their potato order flow through stores closer to the actual holiday since consumers are doing most of their shopping just a few days before the actual holiday itself.
“Promoting high velocity potato sales is being executed with replenishable bins that can be set on an end cap or store perimeters with high traffic.”
The market should remain “somewhat stable,” since overall U.S. domestic potato acreage is down in volume and size profile, Beck said.
As a result, “I wouldn’t anticipate any large spikes in retail consumer packs through the holidays,” Beck said.
Larger potato profiles may be a different story though, and there is a possibility for some market volatility in that arena, Beck said.
“Pending on how retailers place their orders for shipment will test the production capacity of shippers which in turn may drive market prices higher if retailers all what their orders to land about the same time,” he said.
Strong processing demand should help to “keep the fresh market in check,” Beck said.
“We will probably not see as many ‘fire sales,’ due to a lower frequency of full shipper floors, since the process demand will take some of these potatoes out of the pipeline,” he said.
If processors start buying from the fresh market — which is possible, if total processing supply is less than their production plan — it would tighten supply, already projected to be down about 6% versus last year, putting upward pressure on pricing, said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail/international for the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.
“Until they start seeking product, we won’t know how much they will take out of the fresh stream,” he said.
Meantime, the commission has a number of promotional opportunities for retailers beginning with the new crop, Pemsler said.
“First, we launch a tie-in, offering $1 off coupons good for a bag of Idaho potatoes with purchase of Litehouse herbs,” he said.
“At the same time, we offer ad monies for putting the Idaho seal in retailer circulars with bonuses during the holidays or for tying our partner products to the ad.”