Home meal preparation has boosted retail demand for fresh potatoes.
In March, sales of U.S. potatoes increased more than sales of any other vegetable in retail stores, according to Potatoes USA, the Denver-based marketing arm for 2,000 U.S. commercial potato growers. Meanwhile, retail demand of all potato products was 41% higher in March 2020 than it was in March 2019, the organization said.
People eating at home, combined with state orders that don’t allow in-house dining at restaurants, resulted in the increased retail demand for fresh potatoes, including reds and russets, the potatoes generally most popular for home cooking. Both reds and russets are grown in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Fresh potato demand rose 42% during March 2020, and, as of the first week of April, year-over-year dollar sales rose 67%, according to Potatoes USA.
The retail demand for fresh potatoes is unprecedented.
While there have been major global-wide events, such as World War II, which have had an impact on the economy, they, unlike the coronavirus pandemic, didn’t shut down restaurants, said Ted Kreis, Northern Plains Potato Growers marketing and communications director in East Grand Forks.
“I can’t think of any time in history where the whole dynamic has shifted from people eating at restaurants to people eating at home,” he said.
The increased demand and tight supply of fresh potatoes has resulted in higher prices for farmers who still have the crop in storage. Prices of fresh potatoes range from $30 to $32 per hundred-pound bag, about double what they were a year ago, Kreis said.
However, the number of farmers who still have potatoes left to market is limited.
Kreis knows of only three northeast North Dakota potato packing/shipping companies that have the produce left to sell. Many growers of fresh potatoes, like growers who grow russet potatoes for the French fry industry, experienced crop losses last fall because heavy rains and snow muddied fields, making them too wet to harvest. Most of the farmers who experienced the losses grow their crops in fields near Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
Associated Potato Growers, which has plants in the North Dakota cities of Grand Forks , Drayton and Grafton, continues to sell its potatoes to retail stores across the United States, said Mike Torgerson, Associated Potato Growers CEO. But while retail demand for fresh potatoes has increased, restaurant demand has decreased, he noted.
Meanwhile, at the same time there has been an increase in fresh potato demand, there also has been a commensurate decrease in demand for potatoes used for processing, Kreis said.
“Potato consumption has not increased, but shifted. We have process growers that don’t have anywhere to ship the remainder of their crop,” he said.