Retail Shows Surprising Russet Gains

Published online: Mar 28, 2018 Articles Tom Karst
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Source: The Packer

Reversing recent market share erosion, potato category leader fresh russet potatoes showed modest volume gains from July through December.

“We are seeing growth in categories we haven’t seen growth in for a while, which has been nice,” saysRoss Johnson, global marketing manager for Potatoes USA. “We haven’t seen (russets) grow for a long time.”

In data collected by Nielsen, fresh russet volume was up 0.43 percent for the six-month period. Russet potatoes accounted for 66.08 percent of potato category sales, up from 65.46 percent a year ago, according to Nielsen. In visits across the U.S., Johnson saysPotatoes USA has been working with retailers to help them take advantage of how the potato category can drive produce department profits.

“I think there is an understanding (retailers) need to focus more on the potato category to help it grow even stronger,” he says.

Johnson says spuds help drive sales of other foods that can be paired with potatoes.

Red potato sales ranked second behind russets for the July through December period, accounting for 16.03 percent of sales, down from 17.03 percent in the same period a year ago. Red sales for the six-month period were off 1.48 percent compared with year-ago numbers, and red potato volume was down 6.78 percent compared with a year ago.

The third-ranked potato category July through December last year was yellow potatoes, accounting for 10.75 percent of total fresh potato sales, compared to 9.85 percent last year. Retail sales of yellow potatoes July through December were up 8.09 percent compared with a year ago, while retail volume was up 7.91 percent compared with the same period last year.

White potatoes, the fourth-ranked fresh potato category, suffered declines in volume and sales compared with a year ago, according to Nielsen data. White potato sales were off 6.20 percent compared with a year ago, while volume of white potatoes sold at retail from July through December was off 12.21 percent compared with the same period a year ago. White potato sales accounted for 5.55 percent of potato category sales, down from 6.19 percent for the same period a year ago.

Fingerling potato sales account for just 0.23 percent of total potato category sales from July through December, up just slightly from 0.22 percent during the same period a year ago. Retail sales and volume of fingerlings were up about 1.3 percent for the six-month period compared with the same time last year.

Johnson saysPotatoes USA is encouraging retailers to offer consumers options.

“Consumers still have an affinity for the bagged produce and appreciate the value it offers, but they also like the option of having an item that is quicker to prepare,” he says. “What we are encouraging retailers to do right now is to figure out how you run promotions so you encourage of both instead of either/or options.” 

For example, retailers can offer both the 5- or 10-pound bag on their ads, plus a convenient microwaveable package at the same time, he said.

“I think there is a real opportunity there,” says Johnson.

Potato consumer packaging two pounds and smaller—tray packs, smaller potatoes, microwaveable tray packs—have been a growth category, says Ralph Schwartz, vice present of sales for Potandon Produce in Idaho Falls, Idaho. From the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2017, Schwartz says the “mini” category has almost doubled, reaching nearly 16 percent of potato category sales.

“No one is sure what the overall percent of the category it is going to capture but it keeps climbing,” he says.

The Nielsen data showed total fresh potato sales in July through December were up 1.21 percent compared with year-ago levels, and volume was about 0.52 percent lower.

Fresh potato sales accounted for 65.42 percent of total potato sales in July through December, compared with 24.85 percent for frozen potatoes, 4.07 percent for deli potatoes, 3.16 percent for dehydrated potatoes, and 2.5 percent for refrigerated potatoes.