For all the new packages, new products and new varieties introduced in recent years, specialty and value-added spuds still represent a tiny fraction of the potato category.


“It’s still a small share,” Jana Mickey, senior account manager for The Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., said of specialty potatoes. “It’s 2% of the category.”


Not that fingerlings, gemstones and the like don’t have potential. Mickey said the specialty sub-category showed 10% growth for the 13-week period ending Sept. 26.


“There continues to be increased demand for fingerlings, and we are expecting to increase our production of fingerlings even more in the upcoming planting season,” said Randy Shell, vice president of marketing for RPE, Bankroft, Wis.


According to the Perishables Group’s Fresh Facts report for the 52-week period ending Sept. 26, 1.5-pound bags of fingerlings had the biggest growth in volume within the sub-category at 9%, while 1.5-pound bags of gemstones were next at 5%.


Bulk purple potatoes had the biggest decline, down 11%.


Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets Inc., Lakeland, Fla., said specialty potato movement has been slow but reported that single wrapped potatoes, or micro bakers, were faring well.


Mickey said that while micro bakers remain popular, many other value-added potato products are struggling to find their niche during the recession.


Jim Richter, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh, was more optimistic.


He said the company’s Potato Jazz product has been well received, and Wilcox plans to expand the line in 2010.


Potato Jazz is a three-product line of value-added, steamable potato products that are packaged with a seasoning packet.


The line officially launched in October at PMA’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif., with a petite baby russet burbank, a medley of fingerlings and a red and yellow potato combo. Richter said additional varieties will be added next year.


Richter said retailers like the fact that the product does not require refrigeration.


Despite the weak economy, Richter said the value-added product — which serves four and retails for $3.49-3.99 — still has appeal.


“What we’re offering is so unique and different, and it’s still a value,” he said.


“When you look at the targeted customer, which is time-crunched, middle and upper-class families, it fits that niche. They see it as a solution, so it’s worth the money.”