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Potatoes stay hot; onions sales steady

By
Seth Mendelson

Hot potatoes. Really hot potatoes.

That is the state of the potato category, a market that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cornell University say is producing dollar sales gains that are increasing by more than 10 percent annually. The reason: consumers see potatoes as a healthy option, tasty, different uses, easy to prepare and, perhaps most importantly, relatively inexpensive, especially during times of high inflation.

And, things might get much better for the vegetable, which Potatoes USA, says remains America’s favorite vegetable for the seventh year in a row. The Denver-based marketing organization, which represents about 2,000 potato farming families operating in the United States, and importers, says that 80 percent of Americans eat potatoes every week with about 33 percent eating potatoes at least three times a week. Potato USA promotes five potato products: fresh-table stock. Fresh chipping, seed, frozen and dehydrated potatoes.

The organization adds that consumers perceive many health benefits from potatoes, including vitamin C, protein and good for a weight management program.

Potatoes, with mashed and fries the most popular, are also a source of good carbohydrates that fuel activities throughout the day.

The COVID pandemic may have helped the potato market, too. With more consumers eager to prepare their own meals, at home, and more recipes including potatoes hitting the market, the demand for potatoes keeps growing. But Potato USA cautions that more marketing always needs to be done to keep consumers interested especially with half of consumers adhering to certain dietary guidelines.

While Idaho remains the king of the potato, with about a third of all potatoes planted and harvested, other states, ranging from Washington and California on the West Coast to Texas to Maine and Florida on the East Coast are becoming more active players in the category. Potatoes USA says that frozen potato sales grew by an impressive 31.8 percent in the latest quarter ending Sept. 30, while fresh potatoes grew by 5.9 percent, instant potatoes increased by a solid 17.1 percent and canned potatoes jumped by 45.1 percent. Of course, potato chips, which make up nearly 50 percent of retail sales, grew by about 5 percent during the tracked period.

The onion market may be the third largest vegetable industry in the country, according to the Eaton, Colo.-based National Onion Association, but it does not feature the same sales gains as potatoes. Still, onions are a steady and important category for its farmers and those retailers who sell them.

The NPA suggests that, since few consumers plan their onion purchases, retailers have to be on top of their game, in both displays and promotions, to gain the shoppers attention and get them to purchase more product. The association said that, according to its own studies, consumers find onions to be convenient, versatile, of excellent quality and good value. They also view onions as healthy and flavorful, a trend that might spur additional sales through cross-merchandising and cross-marketing opportunities.

Educating consumers are another key factor to building sales of onions. The association adds that there are seasonal differences in onions such as colors, flavor and where to use onions depending on the season. For example, summer onion traits include sweet to mild flavors and higher water content, while fall/winter traits feature flavor that is mild to pungent and lower water content.

California and Oregon produce about 50 percent of the onions harvested in the United States. each year. Other western states, particularly Washington and Idaho, also produce a sizable number of onions.

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