( Photo courtesy Monika Grabkowska )

The chip, frozen and other potato-processing businesses continue to touch the fresh industry, but that touch might be a bit stronger this year, marketers say.

“We have all heard of the news in the U.S.,” said Ross Johnson, international marketing director with the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission. 

He noted the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that, overall, the U.S. potato crop will be down 6%, compared to a year earlier.

“We also heard Canada suffered some difficulty, and we anticipate this will put some pressure on the supply of potatoes throughout the Americas,” Johnson said.

Whatever pressure occurs will come from the frozen side, said Rachel Atkinson-Leach, category and brand manager with the Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange (RPE) Inc.

“The chip industry isn’t having much of an effect on the open market, because the varieties grown for chips do not work for the fresh industry,” Atkinson-Leach said. 

“In contrast, the frozen industry is actively pursuing russet potatoes for frying.”

That quest could siphon some spuds from the fresh market, she said.

“They are getting very creative with the allowable varieties,” she said. 

Assessing the collision of the fresh and frozen interests will come later, Atkinson-Leach said.

“The supply issues in the fresh industry could trickle into the frozen contract business, but we will not know until later in the crop year — springtime, likely,” she said.

Chip and french fry manufacturers already were “active” buyers of product otherwise designated for the fresh market, said Scott Leimkuhler vice president with Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce LLC in Walla Walla, Wash.

“The overall tonnage numbers in the potato industry are down this year, and people are looking for potatoes,” he said. 

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