There’s more to the potato business than reds, whites and russets, marketers say.
Specialty varieties and organics are important parts of the product mix, they note.
“We need to continue to explore varietals,” said Mike Hart, director of sales and marketing for Fryeburg, Maine-based Green Thumb Farms.
“When I look at the produce section as a whole and see the wide range of apple varieties, or a specific orange variety being marketed to kids or parents, I think we can keep pushing the potato category in that direction.”
Green Thumb has found success marketing its Cold River Gold variety to consumers, as well as chefs, Hart said, citing one example.
“Last year we saw a big lift marketing the Queen Anne variety, our first to be offered through Farmer’s First, our developmental program in which we partner with retailers to introduce new varieties to the New England marketplace,” he said.
Organics are an increasing share of the product portfolio at Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, said Eric Beck, marketing director.
“Organics continue to be front-and-center in gaining market share for many retailers’ growth initiatives,” he said.
“Wada has found good success in adding a comprehensive organic program to our commodity portfolio. It has provided opportunities for growth through consolidation services for those looking to get a bit of ‘everything’ on their truck.”
The specialties and organics offer something “new and exciting” in the potato category, said Ross Johnson, international marketing director with the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.
“At the IPC, we are working with retailers to help them develop merchandising strategies to increase category sales,” he said. “The great thing about the specialty market is how it creates something new for consumers to see.”
However, it is important for retailers to understand how crucial the rest of the department is to the overall category performance, Johnson said.
“We have studies that use data to assist retailers in developing the proper merchandising of potatoes to drive greater sales,” he said.
The specialty category is all about flavor and convenience, said John Pope, vice president of sales and marketing with Houston-based MountainKing Potatoes.
“We’re constantly encouraging our retail partners to take a good look at these gourmet varieties.”
Specialty potatoes still are a niche, compared to the mainstream potato category, but they are growing, said Christine Lindner, national sales with Alsum Farms & Produce Inc. in Friesland, Wis.
“Grower-packer-shippers like Alsum Farms & Produce are responding to the changing consumer taste and preferences by introducing value-added potato products to provide the consumer with ready-to-cook healthy potato offerings to meet the growing trends for fresh foods fast,” she said.
The convenience factor is big, Lindner said.
“The value-added category will continue to experience growth in the future,” she said.
The convenience aspect of specialty offerings is an important part of the growth in the potato category, said Rachel Atkinson-Leach, category and brand manager with the Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange Inc.
“With consumers wanting to spend less time cooking dinner, specialty potatoes are filling a need that the traditional segment cannot fill with convenience through fast cooking and minimal preparation,” she said.