Potandon Produce has released a new potato variety making a counterintuitive marketing claim for a starchy vegetable.

The Idaho Falls-based company unveiled its first low-carbohydrate potato Oct. 19 during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention in New Orleans. Potandon boasts its CarbSmart potato has 55 percent fewer carbohydrates than rice or pasta.

Ralph Schwartz, the company’s vice president of sales, marketing and innovation, believes the product will continue a recent trend of convenient, colorful and innovative specialty products strengthening sales in the long-stagnant fresh potato category.

“We’ve been working on it for several years,” Schwartz said, explaining this is the pilot for what could become a broader line of potatoes bred for specific health attributes.

It’s no accident that Potandon bred a yellow-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety for its first CarbSmart release. Schwartz explained yellow potatoes have enjoyed steady sales growth for the past eight years — perhaps because U.S. demographics are changing, and yellow potatoes may be more similar to spuds found in many other countries.

Schwartz also noted that mini fresh potatoes have become trendy, growing from about 11 percent of category dollars two years ago to roughly 15 percent today.

“Because they’re growing, everybody is focusing almost 100 percent of their marketing and advertising dollars on (minis),” Schwartz said.

Potato industry leaders say they’re cautiously optimistic about new Nielsen sales numbers for August, purchased by Potatoes USA, which show gains in all potato categories, including a second consecutive month of growth in fresh sales. The fresh sales volume increased by 1.3 percent from August of 2016, and the sales value rose 2.8 percent.

By volume, sales of fingerlings were up nearly 23 percent, with yellow sales up more than 13 percent, russets up 0.7 percent, reds up 0.6 percent and other specialty types up by nearly 15 percent.

“The fact that we saw two months in a row where sales of all products — fresh potatoes and also fresh-cut, frozen, dehydrated and deli — were all up is positive,” said John Toaspern, chief marketing officer with Potatoes USA. “It’s a sense that the market is doing well, that as we diversify into various different parts of the store people are still buying potatoes, and fresh potatoes, as well.”

Toaspern cautioned that the industry shouldn’t put too much stock in eight weeks of data, and he’ll draw firmer conclusions once numbers are released for the end of the year.

“I do think one of the things helping the (fresh) category is the fact that there are so many different and new products being offered,” Toaspern said. “We’ve got more fingerlings, we’ve got more easy-preparation products, and a lot of different products are out there that appeal to different consumers.”

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