Plenty of Trendy Potatoes, but Burbank a Foodservice Stalwart

Published online: Jul 20, 2017 Articles Rand Green
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The Wada Farms Marketing Group, based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, offers an assortment of products for foodservice clients, including russet potatoes, colored potatoes, chipper potatoes, mini potatoes, fingerlings, sweet potatoes and onions.

But the basic Russet Burbank potato continues to be the mainstay, says Kevin Stanger, president of the 73-year-old family-owned company.

Some of the products Wada Farms provides to foodservice buyers are relatively new offerings, and there is a growing demand for them, Stanger says. Many of those customers “want something trendy,” he adds, citing purple potatoes as an example. “But your basic potato is still your Idaho Russet Burbank.”

Russet Burbank is still the preferred variety for most foodservice operators for such basic applications as baked potatoes and mashed potatoes, because they are “high in solids,” says Stanger. “That is why Idaho has commanded such a premier name.”

A high-end restaurant might be willing to pay, say, $50 per box plus freight for a box of fingerlings, Stanger says. But many eateries, which are focused on value, “just want to throw on a small baked potato” alongside a steak. “That is a good value item for them, compared to throwing on four fingerlings.”

Although “obviously our russet potatoes are our mainstay,” Stanger says, “our chipper line is continuing to grow” for foodservice.”

Currently, the company is out of the products, but it will have them again in late August, with availability through most of the coming season, Stanger says.

Wada Farms offers organic products as well. The organic category “isn’t big in foodservice, but it is starting to inch its way into the mainstream.” There are “a few places that want to show organics on their menus … but at least from what we have seen … it just isn’t quite as big a presence [in foodservice] as it seems to be in retail.”

The most popular pack size for foodservice russet potatoes is the 50-pound box, Stanger says. Specialty varieties such as fingerlings or mini-potatoes are also available in smaller containers.

Value-added products, which are a major part of Wada Farms’ retail business, are also available for foodservice but are not in great demand in that sector. “We triple wash and do some foil-wrapped potatoes,” for example, Stanger says. “We offer it, where maybe [foodservice distributors] could sell some convenience stores… or some schools or some specialty niches, so those are available.”

Most foodservice customers seem to “always want the basics,” meaning quality and price, Stanger says. For fresh cut products such as fries or hash browns, “they always want No. 2 potatoes,” for example.

However, Wada Farms is seeing increased interest in chipper potatoes “for fresh cut fries and fresh-cut potato chips, which is kind of a new thing,” he says. “That is why we have expanded that program.”

Similarly, growth continues in the foodservice sector for colored potatoes and other specialty potato categories.


Source: The Produce News