Idaho potato growers see two major trends with their products: consumers are increasingly looking for smaller pack sizes and for potatoes other than russets.
Ralph Schwartz, vice president of marketing, sales and innovation at Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce LLC, mentioned the rise of 5-pound bags at retail, displacing 10-pounders in popularity.
“I actually think there will be a resurgence in the popularity of big bags,” he said. “I still see a strong demand for big bags during Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Stephen Abend, chief operations officer for Nonpareil Farms, Blackfoot, Idaho, agreed that consumers prefer smaller pack sizes for russets — 3-pound, 4-pound and 5-pound bags.
The increased interest in smaller pack sizes has spurred the industry to come up with new ideas and technology, said Kevin Stanger, president of Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“For example, we were the first to bring out our ‘Tater Made’ bags,” he said. “There are more (value-added) products in place and microwave-ready products. This segment will continue to grow.”
As for varietal trends in potatoes, Stanger said he’s seen growth during the past few years in all non-russet varieties: reds, yellows, fingerlings and chippers, as well as organics.
“Russets obviously still hold a huge margin of what Idaho ships, but the other items are growing in popularity every year,” he said.
Ryan Wahlen, sales manager for Pleasant Valley Potato Inc., Aberdeen, Idaho, said he’s specifically seen an increase in fingerling potato demand.
“We started growing them on a very small scale three years ago due to customer requests,” Wahlen said. “We’ve increased our acreage each season since to meet increased demand.”
The company’s most popular package is its 20-pound mixed medley of fingerlings.
“Fingerlings are popular with high-end retailers and foodservice companies that supply white-tablecloth restaurants. I think that volume is increasing as consumer awareness of and exposure to fingerling varieties has increased.”
Fingerlings represent only a small percentage of the company’s overall supply, but Wahlen said they’re the top growth item with the most growth potential.