Potato marketers in the Pacific Northwest have multiple plans for their spuds this year, as usual.
“As with most years, our goals are to assist our customers in building their business and helping solve problems by providing the best customer service we can and the highest-quality product we can grow,” said Matt Yeoman, salesman with Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Skagit Valley’s Best Potatoes.
“That goes for any of our customers or potential customers in every market segment — whether that be through innovative products or packaging, transportation assistance, or keeping them abreast of market changes.”
The Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission has numerous marketing initiatives planned this year, said Chris Voigt, executive director.
For example, the commission has targeted foodservice, school nutrition and athletes and will showcase product at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif.; the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago; (Northwest) Foodservice in Portland, Ore.; and the Western Foodservice Show in Los Angeles.
“We are also really focusing on different and nutritious ways potatoes can be served in Schools, meeting the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) regulations, by working closely with the Washington School Nutrition Association,” Voigt said.
The commission also will launch the second year of its Powered by Potatoes campaign, which focuses on potatoes’ health benefits for athletes, Voigt said.
“We started this year at a few events — Bloomsday, Seattle Rock ‘n Roll and some other smaller events,” he said.
“Our big one coming up will be the Seattle-to-Portland bike ride, where we are sponsoring the breakfast event at the midway point in Centralia, where the 8,000 riders will be offered a potato breakfast to carb up for the final 104 miles of the 208-mile ride.”
Then, there’s the export market, where Washington sends roughly 70% of its processed potato products, Voigt said.
Processed potatoes account for about 90% of Washington’s total potato production and acres, he said, adding that key markets for processed potatoes are Japan, Mexico, China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.
“The export market has been red-hot because of growing demand for frozen potato products at quick-serve restaurants and because of a shortage of potato products out of the (European Union), due to last summer’s drought,” Voigt said. “But we are starting to see impacts to our exports due to tariffs out of China and Japan implementing a free trade agreement with the EU.”
Washington also exports about 10% of its fresh potatoes, Voigt said.
“Our key markets for fresh potato exports are Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea and fresh chipping potatoes to Japan,” he said.
Mexico is a key destination for potatoes from Clackamas, Ore.-based Botsford & Goodfellow Inc., salesman Paul Kern said.
Political issues involving the stream of illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border have amped up angst over trade between the two countries, Kern said.
“We send a lot to Mexico; everybody’s unsure as to what will happen,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s fizzled out.”
It has not altered Botsford’s export plans, Kern said.
“We intend to ship a good portion of our crop down that way in Mexico,” he said. “We have a decent following, and that goes for the rest of our crop.”
Some plans never change in the marketing of potatoes, said Terry Guthrie, owner of Riverside Potato, which has about 300 acres of spuds in Klamath Falls, Ore.
“Same as always,” he said when asked about his company’s marketing plans for this year. “Just get on the phone and start calling customers.”
The time to get active in marketing a crop is well ahead of the deal, said Myron Ayers, sales manager with Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Norm Nelson Inc.
“We have a long list of existing customers, and we already are in contact with those folks,” Ayers said.
“They know we’re not going to be harvesting until September. They’re buying from Bakersfield or who’s in the production mode now. Then, they go to the Stockton area, then Eastern Washington and it will be our turn in September. So, marketing will be similar to past years.”
Retailers are looking for more packaging options today than in years past, Ayers said.
”I’d say there’s a higher demand for consumer packs. “It makes sense,” he said. “You need to accommodate those retailers that want to scan everything.”
The most popular packaging formats are 3-, 5- and 10-pound bags, Ayers said.
“We also have regular foodservice business, and that’s all 50-pound units,” he said.
Specialty varieties fill an important role, too, Ayers said.
“High-end restaurants that want to jazz up menus with a purple potato option,” he said. “But we’ll have retailers that have a 1- or 2-pound mesh to answer demand for their part of the specialty market.”
Demand for gold potatoes is up, too, said Dale Hayton, sales manager with Burlington, Wash.-based Valley Pride Sales LLC.
“The demand has increased, and growers have responded with more acreage and improved gold potato varieties,” he said.
In the colored potato category, growers adjust acreages between the reds, golds, whites and purples, Hayton said.
“As the growers have increased the gold potato production, reds have fallen,” he said. “We could see the red market stronger than golds this coming season for the first time in several years, as the supplies have shifted.”