Specialty Offerings Expand Reach of Potatoes, Onions

Published online: Nov 17, 2020 Articles Jim Offner
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Source: The Packer

Specialty varieties play a central role in marketing potatoes and onions, marketers say.

“Red and gold potatoes continue to grow in consumer demand; creamer-size potatoes and varieties continue to grow exponentially in demand; the specialty potato category, while small, continues to grow,” said Christine Lindner, marketing manager with Friesland, Wis.-based potato grower-shipper Alsum Farms & Produce Inc.

Yellows continue to drive the onion category, but variety choices help, as well, said Rene Hardwick, director of public and industry relations with the Eaton, Colo.-based National Onion Association.

“Each variety has its own use: reds are amazing for pickled onions, salads and they are extremely popular in foodservice because of the beautiful colors they add to dishes. Whites are popular in Latino foods; sweets, when they’re in season, are amazing for grilling, onion rings, and caramelizing; yellows, which are the most ubiquitous, are suitable for any dish.”

Sometimes, “specialty” items grow into something much bigger, marketers of sweet onions point out.

“Vidalia created that category,” said Delbert Bland, president of Glennville, Ga.-based grower-shipper Bland Farms. “There’s no question that the demand for sweet onions is tremendous.”

“Our customers are thrilled that we are offering them, because the volume is very minimal and they can purchase what they need without paying exorbitant prices from distributors,” Peri said.

“They’re critical for connecting younger shoppers to fresh potatoes and building an allegiance that lasts for years to come,” he said.

Specialty products generally bring incremental value to their category, so highlighting key advantages over “core items” in the portfolio generally allows a “capture” of different shopper groups, said Rachel Atkinson-Leach, category and brand manager with Bancroft, Wis.-based potato and onion grower-shipper RPE Inc.

“For example, we could be marketing towards a convenience message promoting minimal preparation or a sustainability message promoting less waste through smaller pack sizes,” she said.

This spring, RPE launched a new specialty item called the Tasteful Selections American Medley, Atkinson-Leach said.

“We saw immediate success with this item and have found it to be 90% incremental to customers’ categories,” she said.

Specialty varieties such as fingerlings or small potatoes can be appealing to newer or familiar users who want ideas for unique recipes, or methods of preparation other than stove-top or grill, said Nick Leger, salesman with Lake Wales, Fla.-based potato grower-shipper Mack Farms Inc.

“High-graphic packaging is another opportunity to highlight the health and nutritional benefits of potatoes and onions, and tell your story,” he said.

Specialty varieties are ideal when faster cooking times are crucial, said Dana Rady, director of promotions, communication and consumer education with the Antigo-based Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association Inc.

“They also provide a nutty and earthy flavor that is perfect for cooler days and comfort food-type recipes, not to mention a beautiful pop of color between the purple, red and white medley,” Rady said. 

“They’re great for providing that ‘little something different’ in a dish made for the holidays or basic entertaining.”