Specialty potatoes represent just a fraction of the Wisconsin potato crop, but some growers are making significant investments in this growing segment of the category.

Specialty spuds showing promise“We are always improving and upgrading,” said Larry Alsum, president and CEO of Alsum Farms & Produce Inc., Friesland, Wis. “We just finished a new packing line addition dedicated to our reds, goldens and specialty potatoes that will give us more flexibility and capacity to do the smaller packs and the microwavable packs. We’ve seen growth, and we’re trying to handle that. It’s a small percentage of all sales, but it’s growing at a double-digit rate with specialties and organics compared to a stagnant overall market.”

Meanwhile, Rosholt, Wis.-based Bushmans’ Inc., is introducing a bag for specialty and smaller-sized potatoes.

“The line will contain a fingerling offering along with baby reds and miniature yellows,” said CEO Mike Carter, who added that the 3-pound “Spudalicious” bags will have an upscale look.

Carter said specialty potatoes represent less than 1% of the company’s sales, but they fill an important niche.

“It’s a small percentage of the category,” he said, “but it’s definitely a growth area. There’s a subset of the consumer base that wants that offering. They want to experiment. We owe it to consumers and retailers to provide that.”

Randy Shell, vice president of marketing and new business development for RPE Inc., Bancroft, Wis., said russet potatoes continue to lead in terms of overall volume, but that demand for specialty and organic potatoes continues to grow.

“We expect to see this trend continue into the future,” Shell said, “and the segment will dominate the growth in the category.”

The growing demand for specialties isn’t limited to retail shoppers.

“We see foodservice using more of the reds, goldens, and fingerling potatoes,” Alsum said. “The consumer likes a fresh potato, and these options seem to be growing faster than the baked russet potato.”