Demand is strong and pricing up for organic potatoes from Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
“We’re in a good position to finish by the end of March or early April,” says Dwayne Coffin of Vanco Farms in Mount Albion, PEI. “Demand is strong and along with that, a favorable exchange rate has allowed us to see higher pricing over last year.”
He also adds that Vanco sees higher demand this season for organic potatoes from the U.S., but demand is also strong locally from the Maritime region.
That might be in line with what Coffin sees in the category overall. “It appears the organic potato category is growing again,” he says. “In a year like this year where there seems to be fewer conventional potatoes throughout North America, it’s helped increase consumption because there’s a much smaller price gap at the retail level. That’s encouraging more sales.”
What he would like to see in the category is some of the product options the conventional category offers. “I feel the organic program does need to catch up with conventional in terms of convenience and ready to cook packages,” says Coffin.
Meanwhile, in supplies, Coffin says while its own farm supply is down slightly from last year, overall the island has about the same amount of potatoes left to ship. And competition seems to be fairly light. “Maine is usually a factor but they seem to have a lot less inventory left to sell,” he says. “Western Canada can be a factor, but freight costs usually allow our region to maintain its competitiveness in the marketplace. We’re not seeing a lot of competition from regions we normally would so we expect to stay busy.”
Pricing meanwhile is relatively consistent with last year’s prices and Coffin notes that pricing on red and yellow potatoes don’t fluctuate much year to year.
With strong demand for organic product, quality challenges do remain on Coffin’s mind. “In our region the weather has been extremely erratic, from too dry to too much rain. The quality bar at the receiving level also continues to rise and often it’s difficult to meet those customer quality specs with the increased challenges we’re facing at the growing level,” he says. “Today’s consumer is much more educated and the appearance of the product has become the highest priority of most buyers.”
That’s a shift from what buyers used to accept as organic quality--there was a time when the industry used to take organics that were slightly inferior to conventional but that is no longer the case. “Now we throw out on average 25-30 percent of the product we pack just to meet market quality expectations,” says Coffin. “That most likely won’t be sustainable if we continue down this path long term.”