Grocers in America’s top potato-producing state have somehow had a hard time keeping spuds in stock in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Potato shortages were becoming evident Tuesday on St. Patrick's Day. Shoppers preparing to hunker down at home to avoid contracting the contagious disease have taken to buying foods that store well by the cartload.
"It is strange. I didn't think I'd ever see a shortage, at least at the store level, of potatoes in Idaho," said Travis Blacker, industry relations director with the Idaho Potato Commission.
Reports show consumer bag prices skyrocketed during the course of five days due to the coronavirus-related demand. On March 11, USDA Market News reported the price of five, 10-pound baled bags of fresh Russet Norkotahs shipped from the Twin Falls and Burley district at $5 to $6, mostly $5.50. This price had reached $6.50-7 as of March 16.
Potato prices were already strong due to a tight supply, caused by a lower yielding 2019 crop and losses caused by early frost. Market News reported 50-pound cartons of restaurant-grade fresh Norkotahs were selling for $22 to $23 on March 16, compared with $8.50 to $10 on the same date a year ago.
"Most grocery stores have loosened their specs on what they'll accept from shippers, too," a Market News official told The Idaho State Journal.
In addition to experiencing stronger demand from retailers, Blacker said Idaho fresh potato packers have reported a significant spike in sales from customers who buy cartons directly from their sheds.