Sales of yellow-flesh potatoes have soared 24 percent since 2009, according to the U.S. Potato Board. Red potato volumes increased 4.1 percent in U.S. retail stores for the 52 weeks ending Aug. 31, according to the Nielsen Perishables Group.
Although still small potatoes compared to russets, which account for nearly half the retail dollars spent in the potato category, colored varieties are gaining ground.
"We're encouraging retailers to promote red potatoes more often because consumers perceive them as a healthy choice," said Ted Kreis, marketing and communications director for Northern Plains Potato Growers in East Grand Forks, Minn., home of the Red River Valley red potato.
John Pope, vice president of sales and marketing for Monte Vista, Colo.-based MountainKing Potatoes, one of North America's largest producers of gold potatoes, recently completed a record gold harvest in Colorado's San Luis Valley.
"We're continuing to grow more gold potatoes as a result of increasing consumer demand," he said.
Despite glowing sales numbers, golds still represent only 6 percent of all fresh potatoes sold.
Yet Pope thinks varieties such as Yukon Gold and Satina, which MountainKing packs under the Butter Gold brand, can boost sales and re-energize bagged potatoes the same way Fuji and Gala varieties reshaped the apple category.
"If one out of every two potato shoppers switched to golds, total potato sales would increase 24 percent," he said.
Pope said the average basket ring is $36 without potatoes, and about $107 with russets.
"When golds or fingerlings are in the cart, it jumps up to about $130," he said.
"Folks buying the higher-value varieties are also most likely to be preparing fresh meals from scratch," he said. "They're also buying other items that make the stores a lot of money."
In taste tests, Pope said shoppers prefer golds to other varieties. They're also popular with younger, health-conscious shoppers, since they taste rich and buttery without the need for high-fat toppings.
To bring golds the attention they deserve, Pope would like to see retailers create a big display in an unexpected place, such as the front of the store, rather than sticking them in the back of the produce department.
"If we could get just a few retailers to really declare golds as their go-to item, I think there could be a tidal wave of profitability for all retailers," he said.
MountainKing's most innovative package is a 3-pound bag called Steakhouse Golds.
"We're targeting smaller households looking to recreate the steakhouse experience with mashed potatoes," Pope said.
The company also sells its Butter Golds in a 5-pound poly-mesh high-graphic bag and a 10- or 15-pound club pack, which sells extremely well around the holidays, he said.