( Ashley Nickle )

Marketers have a stronger price this year on which to base their sales of potatoes, perhaps thanks, in part, to strong demand from the processing sector.

And, though few marketers offered to speculate on where prices might go as 2019 unfolds, they indicate there should be ample potato supplies.

Processing demand appears to be strong, but there is no need to worry about processors raiding fresh supplies, said Micahel Castagnetto, vice president of sourcing for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based distributor Robinson Fresh.

The interesting trend to follow is the advent of the home-delivery meal products, as well as retailers’ efforts to combat this with in-store meal items, both of which use table-stock potato varieties, Castagnetto said.

“Consumer interest in this product is statistically a blip on the radar, so we’ll keep an eye on it, but if it grows larger, it will likely pull from the existing fresh crop that typically fills the fresh department shelves,” he said.

Meanwhile, marketers continue to emphasize convenience and variety in their potatoes, Castagnetto said.

“Improvements to any existing product generally include increasing flavor and decreasing prep and cook time,” he said. “When it comes to potatoes, they take the longest of any vegetable to cook and need seasoning to be more appetizing.”

Popularity

Nevertheless, potatoes continue to be one of the most popular fresh produce items because of their low cost-to-calorie ratio, Castagnetto said.

Over the past decade, though, there has been a shift from large, whole potatoes to smaller potatoes, Castagnetto said.

“Smaller potatoes have grown more than 30%, according to IRI,” he said. 

“The two big reasons for this growth are better flavor and shorter cook time. Small potatoes are becoming the darling of the category because of the flavor.”

Other marketers are in tune with the trend toward convenience, said Rachel Atkinson-Leach, category manager with Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange Inc. 

“Marketing potatoes today is on a continuum — traditional to trending, scratch to convenient,” she said. 

“Even though bags are getting smaller at retail, potatoes are still a staple item with an 87% household penetration. Retailers still need to promote often and merchandise commodity potatoes as ingredients.”

It’s also important to inform consumers about potatoes’ nutritional cachet, said Dana Rady, director of promotion, communication and consumer education for the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association.

“People are beginning to understand the nutritional value potatoes provide for their bodies to perform at their best, regardless of the level on which they find themselves,” Rady said. 

Retailers should promote red and yellow spuds together, said Ted Kries, 
marketing/communication director with the East Grand Forks, Minn.-based Northern Plains Potato Growers Association.

“Mix and match at one price point,” he said. “Also many stores no longer carry 10-pound bags of reds, but they would make a great in and out item for a ‘stock-up’ types ad promotion that promotes larger sizes or multiple buys.”

Marketing new varieties can lead to success, as well, said John Pope, vice president of marketing with Houston-based grower-shipper MountainKing.

“At MountainKing, we’ve made considerable investments in research and commercial growing technologies to harvest new, high-flavor varieties that appeal to younger shoppers while also generating a higher ring for our grocer partners,” he said.

Retailers should keep plenty of information on hand, said Keith Groven, fresh sales manager with Grand Forks, N.D.-based Black Gold Farms.

“We’ve found the most success in marketing potatoes is to inspire consumers at the point of sale,” he said. 

“Pictures, recipes, and a reminder of how easy to prepare they really resonate with shoppers and help drive those incremental sales we’re all looking for.” 

 
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