IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Idaho fresh potato packers shipped substantially more volume prior to the recent Thanksgiving holiday compared with the same period of 2015, according to a USDA report.
Industry officials say the exceptional quality of Idaho’s large spud crop has fueled demand. Nonetheless, Idaho fresh potato prices have remained stagnant.
Through Nov. 23, Idaho fresh sheds had shipped 10.116 million hundredweight of spuds, up nearly 8 percent from the 9.365 million hundredweight shipped through that date in 2015.
The report listed Russet Burbank prices out of the Twin Falls and Burley district at $6 to $7 for the three largest tuber sizes in 50-pound cartons, and $6.50 to $8 for cartons of the four smallest tuber sizes. Consumer bags ranged from $5 to $7 for five, 10-pound sacks.
“The Thanksgiving rush was crazy,” said Idaho Potato Commissioner Randy Hardy, an Oakley grower who serves as chairman of Sun Valley Potatoes.
Hardy said the report confirmed his suspicions about a sizable increase in shipments, which he attributes to buyer interest in an ample supply of high-quality spuds, as well as IPC early marketing campaigns.
He’s been surprised, however, by the lack of movement in fresh prices, especially given that sheds have worked through the initial post-harvest glut and are taking spuds out of storage.
“That’s the frustrating part about it,” Hardy said. “When they see we don’t have a burdensome crop, I would think they would start moving prices up.”
Potato production estimates have not been released. However, Hardy said it’s clear Idaho’s crop will be larger than last year, with fewer defects. Nationwide yields should be “spot on with last year,” Hardy said.
Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Frank Muir said his organization recently finished a price elasticity study, which confirms the Idaho brand is inelastic, meaning an increase in price won’t necessitate a proportional decrease in sales.
“Discounting from an Idaho standpoint doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when consumers value it as a premium brand,” Muir said.
Muir, however, is encouraged by the increased potato sales. To help move a larger crop of high-quality spuds, Muir said IPC started its retail advertising and food service promotional programs a month early, in September.
Muir said IPC has also been generating a lot of publicity recently for its brand. The commission’s Great Big Idaho Potato Truck has reached Washington, D.C., accompanying an 80-foot Engelman spruce cut in Idaho’s Payette National Forest on its trek to the U.S. Capitol, for display as the People’s Christmas Tree.