Russet potatoes still dominate markets, but specialties are gaining.
Frank Muir, president and chief executive officer of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, said Idaho is increasing its market share on specialty potatoes.
"We have just enough growers doing specialties that we are now a one-stop-shop state," Muir said. "We don't want to saturate the market with specialties because that would crash prices."
Muir said shippers that don't grow their own specialty potatoes are often working with growers who do to provide a full range of potato varieties from Idaho.
In Colorado and California, Mountainside, N.J.-based Specialty Potato Alliance is appealing to that specialty trend with its proprietary varieties. The company is working on a new combination bag for what it calls its Culinary Harvest fingerlings, which it will call Melange.
In the specialty category, the company has been marketing more heavily its larger fingerlings-golden, a yellow fingerling and la rouge, a red fingerling-which are more than four inches long, said Richard Leibowitz, managing director,
"We have traditionally done golden and la rouge in retail, and are now looking to put them into foodservice, as well," Leibowitz said.
Leibowitz said specialty potatoes are huge in retail and serve as a way for retailers to upgrade their potato sales. One of the challenges, though, is that consumers like to see colorful potatoes like the purples and blues in mixes, but the darker colors cook at a different rate than yellow and red potatoes. When they're packaged together and cooked together, consumers may end up with an inconsistently cooked meal.
"On the foodservice side, people are interested but are incorporating them a little slower," Leibowitz said. "We have done a lot with traditional varieties like the russian banana, which is a leader in the fingerling category, but we're working to introduce more specialty varieties into foodservice."
The company's goal is to get its foodservice customers asking for proprietary varieties by name, including the company's Rocky Rose and Red Rebel varieties.
"For chefs, they want to do something a little different, to add a little color to the plate," said Mike Gorczyca, procurement manager for Pro*Act, Monterey, Calif. "That's definitely a growing area."
Gorczyca said red and gold potatoes are particularly popular in the foodservice segment.
Specialty potatoes are gaining ground in retail and foodservice, but are seeing particular growth in foodservice, said Jamey Higham, vice president of foodservice for Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce LLC.
"A lot of work has been done to expand chefs' thought patterns with varieties that are available today," said Mike Carter, chief executive officer of Bushmans' Inc., Rosholt, Wis. "Many of those varieties may not have been around 10 years ago."
As chefs have picked up on specialty potatoes, retailers have followed suit, Carter said.
"We expect that to continue," Carter said.
"I think it's catching on, and the reason is consumers are exposed to more than just what chefs are doing in restaurants, but also the Food Channel and cooking shows, which have enlightened consumers."
The Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota is known for its red potatoes, but also produces a good supply of yellow potatoes for the marketplace.
Paul Dolan, general manager of Associated Potato Growers, Grand Forks, N.D., said red potatoes have become so mainstream he doesn't necessarily consider them specialty anymore.\
However, yellow potatoes are still treated as a specialty item.
Among the chefs the Washington State Potato Commission works with for its promotional materials, fingerlings and colored potatoes are growing in popularity, said Karen Bonaudi, director of marketing and industry for the Moses Lake-based Washington State Potato Commission.
"Yukon golds are always really popular because you get a unique flavor and texture," Bonaudi said. Bonaudi said the state's red potatoes sell out to the East Coast and California, where they are in especially high demand.
Mac Johnson, chief executive officer of Denver-based Category Partners, said consumers' growing interest in smaller B- and C-size potatoes likely is due to shorter preparation times required for cooking with them. Category Partners is owned by Monte Vista, Colo.-based Farm Fresh Direct and Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms, and is a retail marketing and category development firm.
SOURCE: Ashley Bentley, The Packer