Russet potatoes' share of the potato category grew for the first time in a long time during the second half of 2017. ( File photo )

Reversing recent market share erosion, potato category leader fresh russet potatoes showed modest volume gains in July through December.

“We are seeing growth in categories we haven’t seen growth in for a while, which has been nice,” said Ross Johnson, global marketing manager for Potatoes USA, Denver. “We haven’t seen (russets) grow for a long time.”

In data collected by Nielsen, fresh russet volume was up 0.43% for the six-month period. Russet potatoes accounted for 66.08% of potato category sales, up from 65.46% a year ago, according to Nielsen.

In visits across the U.S., Johnson said Potatoes USA has been working with retailers to help them take advantage of how the potato category can drive produce department profits.

“I think there is an understanding (retailers) need to focus more on the potato category to help it grow even stronger.”

Johnson said spuds help drive sales of other foods that can be paired with potatoes.

Red potato sales ranked second behind russets for the July through December period, accounting for 16.03% of sales, down from 17.03% in the same period a year ago.

Red potato sales for the six-month period were off 1.48% compared with year-ago numbers, and red potato volume was down 6.78% compared with a year ago.

The third-ranked potato category in July through December last year was yellow potatoes, accounting for 10.75% of total fresh potato sales compared with 9.85% last year.

Retail sales of yellow potatoes in July through December were up 8.09% compared with a year ago, while retail volume was up 7.91% compared with the same period last year.

White potatoes, the fourth-ranked fresh potato category, suffered declines in volume and sales compared with a year ago, according to Nielsen data.

White potato sales were off 6.20% compared with a year ago, while volume of white potatoes sold at retail from July through December was off 12.21% compared with the same period a year ago.

White potato sales accounted for 5.55% of potato category sales, down from 6.19% the same period a year ago.

Fingerling potato sales account for just 0.23% of total potato category sales from July through December, up just slightly from 0.22% the same period a year ago.

Retail sales and volume of fingerlings were up about 1.3% for the six-month period compared with the same time last year.

Johnson said Potatoes USA is encouraging retailers to offer consumers options.

“Consumers still have an affinity for the bagged produce and appreciate the value it offers, but they also like the option of having an item that is quicker to prepare,” he said.

“What we are encouraging retailers to do right now is to figure out how do you run promotions so you encourage of both instead of either/or options.” 

For example, retailers can offer both the 5- or 10-pound bag on ad plus a convenient microwaveable package at the same time, he said.

“I think there is a real opportunity there,” he said.

Potato consumer packaging two pounds and smaller — tray packs, smaller potatoes, microwaveable tray packs — have been a growth category, said Ralph Schwartz, vice present of sales for Potandon Produce, Idaho Falls, Idaho.

From the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2017, Schwartz said that “mini” category has almost doubled, reaching nearly 16% of potato category sales.

“No one is sure what the overall percent of the category it is going to capture but it keeps climbing,” he said.


Fresh versus others

The Nielsen data showed total fresh potato sales in July through December were up 1.21% compared with year-ago levels, and volume was about 0.52% lower.

Fresh potato sales accounted for 65.42% of total potato sales in July through December, compared with 24.85% for frozen potatoes, 4.07% for deli potatoes, 3.16% for dehydrated potatoes and 2.5% for refrigerated potatoes.