Idaho saw great weather throughout their potato harvest this year, which started in August and went through October. “The harvest even wrapped up a bit earlier than usual this year due to the great weather, we had ideal conditions,” says Ross Johnson of the Idaho Potato Commission.
Average volumes and high retail demand this year
The potato planting for Idaho coincided with the start of the pandemic. Due to the market disruptions caused by the pandemic, fewer acres were planted in anticipation for any possible longer-term disruptions of the market. “About 13,000 fewer acres were planted this year. But, because of the fantastic weather we had during the growing season, we saw really strong yields, so in the end the crop size actually ended up similar to what it has been in previous years,” Johnson shares.
While at the start of the pandemic foodservice demand dropped off precipitously, the retail orders were outpacing supplies. “Some weeks, sales were double what they were in prior years, and some shippers even had to find ways to add additional bagging capacity to their sheds to manage the increased demand we’ve been seeing across the board for all varieties,” says Johnson. “Foodservice, while it’s not yet back to pre-pandemic levels, is starting to recover. Initially, the high retail demand was able to make up for the loss of foodservice, but we have seen that they are both important avenues to our industry. At the Idaho Potato Commission, we have two teams that work side by side: one for the retail sector and one for the foodservice sector. These teams have been working together to find ways to help our distributors maximize Idaho potato sales,” he adds.
Holiday sales see spike
While holiday celebrations look very different this year, potatoes continue to be a staple item served at all tables. “Gatherings are different, but the appetite is still the same, and people still love their potatoes. For Thanksgiving we saw an increase in sales compared with previous years – Thanksgiving week in 2019 garnered $89 million in sales, and this year we saw $94 million in sales across the country. In certain regions, the Southeast specifically, we saw an increase of over 10% in sales for that week. We are hoping to see similar numbers for Christmas too,” says Johnson.
The increase in potato sales bodes well for other products too. Johnson explains: “In a study we did recently, we found that when consumers buy potatoes, they spend an average of $85 on their entire shopping trip, while they only spend an average of $43 when there are no potatoes in their baskets. So, the Commission has been working with retailers to encourage them to put the potatoes front and center in the stores to get them into consumers baskets more easily, which will help the fresh produce category as well as the entire store.”
The commission has also created a variety of marketing materials to help encourage retailers with their potato merchandizing. “We created a bunch of one-pagers to give them different ideas and help them understand the importance of potato sales. Our field reps provide merchandizing solutions for everyone who stocks Idaho potatoes, and it really pays off. We are also working on expanding the awareness around Idaho potatoes – specifically that Idaho does more than russet potatoes,” Johnson concludes.