Potatoes, Apples Look to Break Commodity Mold

Published online: Sep 18, 2017 Articles Greg Johnson
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Two of the biggest stars of the autumn produce department—apples and potatoes—historically have had similar challenges, and those challenges persist today:

  • Both suffer from the tendency to overproduce;
  • Both have strong state brands that compete with abundant local competitors;
  • Both are pushing away from established, less sexy varieties to more specialized, higher-value ones; 
  • Both have taken shots questioning their nutrition but have emerged as healthy-for-you as ever; and
  • Both have strong momentum this fall with smaller crops than last year.

In back-to-back weeks this summer, I attended the U.S. Apple Association annual conference in Chicago and the Idaho Grower Shippers Association convention in Sun Valley, Idaho, and I saw optimism.

Growers generally breathed a sigh of relief at the news of smaller crops and likely stronger returns and the knowledge that much of their success this year will depend on them rather than outside factors.

The apple crop is forecast for 248 million 42-pound bushels, down 7 percent from last season’s 268 million, the fourth-highest production year on record.

U.S. Apple Association CEO Jim Bair points out that wholesale fresh apple prices have risen from 24 cents per pound in 2001 to 45 cents per pound last season.

Apples may be the only produce department item with such well-known variety options. “People get excited about different varieties,” says Bair.

He predicts the 2018-19 season to be the one that sees Gala overtake Red Delicious as the U.S.’s top apple variety. This season, Red Delicsion won with 50.9 million bushels forecast versus Gala’s 44.3 million.

In Idaho, the varieties aren’t as well-known, but the state’s brand certainly is, and Frank Muir, CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, says the state’s growers are committed to keeping it that way.

While Idaho’s production estimate isn’t out yet, Muir said in mid-September the state is down about 15,000 acres this season. Last year’s was a big crop. 

“We shipped 12 percent more potatoes last year than the previous year,” says Muir. “That’s probably going to translate to consumption growth.”

Muir says every state grows potatoes, so Idaho growers have to produce a potato that lives up to the premium it has earned.

“Steakhouses should take our best quality,” he says, but retail is also a place Idaho can stand out. “If you put an Idaho bag next to the local, and Idaho is a dollar more, we get that premium at retail.”

Both apples and potatoes have caught the stink-eye from some fad diets, but most fads fade. Everyone intuitively knows it’s healthy to eat apples and potatoes, and both are poised for healthy seasons.


Source: The Packer