BOISE, Idaho (AP)-A battle between grocers and potato growers has been silently hitting shoppers' pocketbooks, according to a U.S. wholesaler accusing America's potato growers of driving up prices while spying on growers with satellites and aircraft fly-overs to enforce strict limits on how many tubers they can grow.
Associated Wholesale Grocers' lawsuit against United Potato Growers of America and two dozen other defendants was shifted this week to U.S. District Court in Idaho, America's top potato-producing state with 30 percent of the nation's supply.
In this lawsuit, the Kansas-based grocers association, a cooperative supplying more than 2,000 stores including IGA, Thriftway and Price Chopper in 24 states, contends potato growers have banded together for a decade to illegally inflate prices in a scheme akin to the petroleum-producing OPEC cartel, reducing planting acreages and destroying potatoes to restrict what is available for sale.
The grocers are asking for triple damages, likely in the millions, and are focusing on growers of fresh potato varieties found in big bags, as well as potatoes processed into crinkle-cut fries, Tater Tots and other products and sold in freezer sections of the group's stores.
United Potato Growers of America has organized growers in 15 states -- it has members in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, representing three-quarters of the nation's fresh potato production.
SOURCE: Capital Press