Fingerling potatoes ( File photo )

A potato isn’t just a potato, particularly now, with new varieties and organics coming on, marketers say.

“Everyone is looking for category growth, and that is coming from specialty and organic offerings,” said Scott Leimkuhler, vice president with Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce LLC in Walla Walla, Wash.

Large size packs on russets (10s and 15s) are decreasing in popularity, as consumers are shopping more frequently and constantly looking for “what is fresh,” he said.

Some also want something that is new and unique, and that’s where specialty varieties play a key role, Leimkuhler said.

“Specialty varieties are generally impulse buys, but many have a distinct almost cult-like following to them, so if retailers carry them regularly and the shoppers can rely on them being there, they work and help grow the category,” he said. 

“Some people just have to have their purple or fingerling potatoes and won’t take any substitute.”

Because shoppers crave the new and unique, so do retailers, said Ross Johnson, international marketing director with the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.

“Retailers seem to really love the varieties as they are something new and exciting to the category,” he said. 

“We have been working closely with retailers to share research that shows they have to be careful to not over-saturate their departments with the varieties.”

However, russets still rule at retail, Johnson said.

“The russet potato category still commands over 60% of all potato sales, and retailers should allocate their shelf space accordingly,” he said.

Reds, yellows, whites and fingerlings do “seem to have momentum,” though, said Michael Hart, sales and marketing director at Fryeburg, Maine-based Green Thumb Farms.

“Because they are easily bite-sized, most have been marketed in a small-pack value-added package, so they appear to consumers to be affordable and easy to prepare,” he said, noting that such items can take less time to prepare than standard russets.

Varietals and small potatoes continue to grow in market share and sales, with the exception of red potatoes, said Rachel Atkinson-Leach, category and brand manager with Bancroft, Wis.-based Russet Potato Exchange (RPE) Inc. 

“Red potatoes are likely showing declines due to an increase in popularity of yellow and bite-size potatoes,” she said. 

Blend/medley potatoes continue double-digit growth up 12% in dollars and 15% in volume, compared to a year ago, Atkinson-Leach said.

“Traditional russet potatoes continue to show volume declines, as consumers are shifting to varietal potatoes in their side dishes and entrees,” she said. 

“Consumers love the thin skin, easy-prep attributes of varietal potatoes. These potatoes add convenience, excitement and versatility to eating occasions.”

Reds and golds continue to attract consumer attention, said Christine Lindner, national sales and marketing manager with Friesland, Wis.-based Alsum Farms & Produce.

“Creamer-size potatoes and varieties continue to grow exponentially in demand,” she said. “The specialty potato category, while small, continues to grow.”

Organic potatoes also are finding their way to consumer shopping carts, Green Thumb’s Hart said.

“The organic movement is still strong, and now there is a strong movement towards being good stewards of the land and cutting down poly use,” he said. 

“Paper seems to have resurfaced as being better for the earth — brown paper, in particular, because of its biodegradable characteristics.”

However, organic seems to have lost some of its previous momentum, said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.

“Our organic market growth seems to have slowed some,” he said. 

“The last two years we have had organic potatoes that had to be marketed through normal commercial market channels because the demand wasn’t strong enough.”

Organics still have the attention of retailers, nevertheless, Ehrlich said.

“All the retailers are interested in organic potatoes and seem to be pushing that market,” he said. 

“I am not certain who is buying organic potatoes, but they certainly believe that the extra cost is worthwhile. This trend will likely continue with higher-income consumers.”

Alsum’s Lindner said organic potatoes are still seeing growth.

“Organic potatoes continue to be a growing category at retail,” she said. 

“Alsum Farms & Produce markets organic Wisconsin russet, red and gold potatoes in a bag and bulk options. We started our organics program in 2000 and see continued interest by millennials as an audience that embraces the organic potato category.”

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