Potato prices jumped by more than one-third in the most recent week on COVID-19 concerns, as consumers stocked up to stay at home.

The fall 2019 crop was smaller already on late planting, fewer acres, reduced yield and a frost-impacted harvest.

Mick Davie, with USDA Specialty Crops Market News in Idaho Falls, said prices for a baled 5-pound film bag, non-size-A, ranged from $6.50 to $8, mostly $7 to $8, on March 16.

As of March 23, prices were up to $11, and mostly $9.50 to $10.

“Due to the shutdown of most restaurants to just being curbside or carry-out, foodservice has considerably decreased while retail demand has exponentially gone through the roof,” he said.

The Idaho Potato Commission advised retailers that shippers in Idaho and throughout the U.S. have been unable to keep up with the surge in demand for bagged product but that the supply of bulk potatoes is higher given the drop in restaurant and college foodservice sales.

IPC Retail Vice President Seth Pemsler said the commission is advising retailers to reallocate some merchandising space from bagged potatoes to bulk. The strategy aims to provide a ready supply of potatoes to display and purchase, in various size and package configurations.

The shift is possible in that the state’s fresh potato crop is roughly equally divided between retail and foodservice. More of the foodservice share is available now.

“Until panic buying stops, it is hard to keep retailers fully stocked,” Pemsler said. “This will help slow it down, as the retailer will always have at least some Russet potatoes on the shelf.”

Meanwhile, many retailers have moved to limit purchase quantities.

Ryan Wahlen, sales manager at Pleasant Valley Potato in Aberdeen, Idaho, said total sales have held up for the most part as the surge in retail demand helps mitigate the foodservice loss. But the foodservice segment must recover, “or it will have an impact on the market in the short term — and everybody in the long term.”

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