Just about all of the Red River Valley potato grower-shippers were impacted to some degree by a drop in foodservice business during the coronavirus pandemic.
The extent to which their sales were affected depended, of course, on how much of their business was allotted to foodservice.
If there was any good news, it’s probably that potato sales for the most part were winding down for the season when COVID-19 first appeared earlier this year.
A & L Potato Co., East Grand Forks, Minn., was doing an “average” amount of foodservice business when the coronavirus hit, said sales representative Jenni Bruer.
The company had a number of loyal foodservice customers, she said, but their business “completely died down when COVID-19 started” and restaurant capacity was restricted.
Dining establishments set up the number of tables they need to operate profitably, Bruer said.
“Restaurants are not designed to run at 50%,” she said. “When you cut their legs off, it’s kind of hard for them to make it.”
J.G. Hall & Sons, Edinburg, N.D., does “a decent amount” of foodservice business, said Jackson Hall, manager.
The challenge when COVID-19 hit was moving some of the byproducts, like No. 2 size A and B potatoes that often go to restaurants and schools.
“We were able to move them, but it took more time than it usually does,” he said.
Hall said he doesn’t know firsthand how much foodservice business has returned, but he has heard from others that sales are picking up.
“It’s still not back to the volume that it was pre-corona,” he said.
Some companies felt little effect from foodservice cutbacks.
Nokota Packers Inc., Buxton, N.D., does not do much foodservice business, said Mike Rerick, vice president of sales.
“We haven’t seen much of a difference,” he said.
Lone Wolf Farms, Minto, N.D., does an equal mix of retail and foodservice business, said owner Chris Bjorneby.
But he said overall sales were only off slightly.
East Grand Forks-based Folson Farms Corp., does “a decent amount” of foodservice business, but did not feel the effects in the spring because the potato program was winding down, said Bryan Folson, president.
The company could be in trouble if restaurant sales don’t start to pick up in the fall, he said.
Ordinarily, B size red potatoes and No. 2s from Ben Holmes Potato Inc., Becker, Minn., go to a processor for foodservice operators, said owner Kevin Olson.
Now, those processors are only taking about one-fourth of what they took in the past, he said.
But he added that foodservice business seemed to be coming back “slowly but surely.”
Not many of the potatoes O.C. Schulz & Sons, Crystal, N.D., sells are destined for foodservice accounts, said Dave Moquist, an owner.
The company’s red and yellow potato sales were not affected by the foodservice shutdown as much as russet sales would have been, he said.
Russets often are used for french fries.
Fortunately, he said, the company was able to make up for lost foodservice sales with additional retail business.