North American Consumers Want More Organic Potatoes
North America has experienced an impressive increase in organic launches, according to recent data by Mintel. The number of organic food products has grown from 9% in 2009 to 15% in 2019 (August 2018 – July 2019).
The trend is driven by the fact that healthful eating has been on the uptick on the continent and it isn’t just hot topics such as the presence and labeling of GMOs in food that are getting attention. The consumer value equation has changed, and products like organic foods – which are considered to be healthier – are leading the way.
This demand has stimulated the rise of organic vegetable cultivation including of potatoes across North America. According to Albert Bartlett, a potato supplier to the U.S. market, there has been a steady upward trend towards organic potatoes.
“More and more consumers are moving away from Russets and more towards reds and yellows. Consumers want more flavor in their overall potato products – which is the basis for this change. Albert Bartlett is winning here, because we grow unique varieties that offer increased flavor and texture that matches what consumers want right now,” said Jeff Stachelek, VP of Sales & Marketing for Albert Bartlett USA.
What’s In Demand
To this end, Albert Bartlett’s range of organic potatoes includes a mix of red and yellow varieties including Blonde Bella, Rooster, Apache, and Anya.
“Rooster is our flagship potato. This variety comes from Ireland (70% of the market) and is known for its tremendous flavor; it has a pink weathered skin and a floury yellow flesh. It is a combination of the best of all potatoes. We grow the Rooster in cold weather climates across the U.S. and Canada. Other varieties gaining momentum include our Blonde Bella – a yellow potato with tender skin. Peruvian Sun – which was voted “Best Potato in the World” and Anya fingerlings – brought over from Scotland, offer a knobby skin with creamy flesh,” explains Stachelek.
Offering a slightly different perspective, Thomas Fresh – a Canadian premium produce provider – says Russets, but also red, white and yellow potatoes are the most sought-after varieties sold in the country.
“However, you will see differences in what variety sells most depending on the province. In the West, we see a strong demand for Russets and reds, whereas Eastern Canadians prefer white and yellow potatoes. Other potatoes varieties which are growing in popularity are in the specialty category, such as organics, purple, blue and fingerling potatoes. We offer fresh organic potatoes in red, Russet, yellow, varieties which are a popular buy. Baby rainbow potatoes include the purple potato variety and finally our yellow fingerlings are a restaurant favorite,” notes Andrea Dubak, marketing specialist at Thomas Fresh.
Apart from that, Dubak reveals that Canadian consumers are looking for smaller package sizes, value-added products, and locally-grown produce in the potato category.
“A few decades ago, demand for potato bags in 10 lb or even 15 lb sizes were very popular. Over time, we have seen a shift to smaller pack sizes such as 5 lb or 3 lb potatoes, due to smaller household sizes and increased urbanization. We live in a ‘time-starved’ society and value-added products are popular across many categories; potatoes are no exception to this trend. We’ve seen steady growth for our pre-packed foil-wrapped russet potatoes which saves prep time for consumers looking to barbecue or bake potatoes conveniently,” she stresses.
Sustainability at the Forefront
Organic farming plays a big part in achieving a sustainable food system, but is, by no means, the only piece of the puzzle. And both companies are making strides in other related areas, as well, especially when it comes to packaging.
“As a company that provides consumer products, our sustainability efforts have focused on packaging. Our team has been working on transitioning all of our offered products to be recyclable. In April 2018, we launched a recyclable tray program for a product line to replace Styrofoam trays which are commonly used in produce. Our next round of packaging goals is focused on eliminating the amount of plastic used. We are looking to sell our products in other materials, such as compostable compounds, and are actively reducing the amount of packaging used to ship our products,” said Thomas Fresh’s Dubak.
Moreover, transparency and traceability are also chief concerns for Thomas Fresh. As Dubak highlights: “Locally-grown is an important aspect of fresh food for today’s educated consumer. We partner alongside mostly Canadian growers to provide potatoes that are grown nearby. In some cases, shoppers search for “local” products specifically from their own resident provinces in an effort to maintain the longevity of neighboring growers. To meet this consumer demand, we have recently launched a line of “Alberta Grown Potatoes” where we work specifically with Albertan farmers to source an exciting localized product on a provincial level.”
Similarly, Albert Bartlett is also working on innovative packaging – including 100% compostable products, which will most likely see the light of day in the near future.
When asked to detail some of the challenges of growing organic potatoes compared to those conventionally-grown Albert Bartlett’s representative highlighted that “Security land and growers that will grow the right way is among the chief concerns. Rotating fields every five to seven years in order to reduce pesticides and fertilizers is also challenging.”
According to Thomas Fresh’ Dubak organic potatoes usually have larger productions costs and lower yields when compared to conventional farms due to differences in processes used when growing. Normally, higher retail pricing of organic potatoes can offset the steeper cost of growing. However, it can be challenging to initially begin an organic farm due to the capital required.
Speaking about the obstacles preventing organic agriculture from spreading at a wider scale in Canada, Thomas Fresh’s representative notes that there are limits to the Canadian climate. With short growing seasons to work with and unpredictable weather patterns, the selection of items that can be cultivated is limited in Canada. Moreover, in some cases, specific commodities experience a market saturation of there already being enough growers competing in a geographical area. The market for organic produce varies in each province and for the commodity sold.
Alternatively, in the U.S. organic potato farming faces roadblocks like cost which is a big hurdle. Moreover, Albert Bartlett’s representative adds that growing, harvesting, storage and packaging of organic produce raise costs 10-15% higher than conventional products. U.S. consumers are not always willing to spend that money on these products. So there is still a supply/demand impact on growing organic potatoes in the country.