By Micah Cheek
The potato may be a bland vegetable, but new sizes and varieties are spicing up the spud sector. While russet and white potato sales are declining, sales of more varied sizes and types of potato are increasing. “There are a lot more SKUs of potatoes of potatoes being offered right now,” says Sarah Reece, Global Retail Marketing Manager for the United States Potato Board.
The greater variety in the potato market is in part due to the slump in traditional potato popularity. After briefly plateauing from 2010 to 2011, potato consumption has been on the decline, with the decline centered on russets. “They’re still a little over half of potato volume, but they continue to lose volume,” says Don Ladhoff, Director of Fresh Sales Marketing. “Other potatoes are growing and outperforming the category. Small potatoes are doing even better.”
Tiny tubers offer a certain novelty that appeals to more adventurous customers. “It’s something new to the category. It’s interesting and fun to take home to the family,” says Reece. According to a study by the United States Potato Board, an increase in the frequency of potato consumption has been driven by working parents and active seniors. These groups have also boosted sales of colored potatoes. “With the interest in premium varieties and smaller potatoes, we’ve been planting more of these red varietals,” says Leah Brakke, Director of Marketing for Black Gold Farms. Black Gold Farms has focused on red potatoes because of the consumer perception of red potatoes as a more valuable and healthy option.
Small spuds have proven effective for in-package cooking, including preseasoned roasting pans and microwavable bags for steaming. Roasting has become a more popular option for petite potato preparation both with and without value-added packaging. “Millenials are 30 percent more likely to prepare potatoes by roasting,” says Ladhoff.
The trend toward smaller sizes has extended past potatoes themselves. Smaller packaging sizes of potatoes have been selling better than the traditional five to 10 pound bags, reflecting a greater change in purchasing habits. “[Customers] are trying to shop for what they need. 51 percent of Millenial shoppers buy for one meal at a time. Smaller potatoes fit into that trend where I want to cook enough potatoes for one night,” says Ladhoff. “From what we hear from retailers, it’s less about portion control, and more about reducing waste.”