REXBURG, Idaho — Although boxes of potatoes from Idaho are required to disclose the variety of potato in the box, the information doesn’t always get interpreted down the line. If customers understood their choices, some think they may choose differently.
“You don’t find many produce department managers who know the difference (between a russet burbank and a russet norkotah),” said David Beesley, president of Snake River Plains Potatoes, Ucon.
Because the varieties aren’t differentiated in the store, consumers don’t know there’s a difference, Beesley said.
“All consumers know is they bought one this week that cooked up well, but the next week it didn’t turn out as good,” Beesley said.
The russet burbank, a less attractive and generally smaller russet potato, tends to have higher solid content, and in return a better taste. Russet norkotah, an early russet variety, gets bigger and stays rounder and more attractive to the consumer’s eye but can have inferior taste.
“Every variety has plenty of strong points to promote, but of all the states Idaho is the only one that has to print the variety on the bag,” Beesley said.
Kent Sutton, general manager of Bench Mark Potato Co. Inc., said Idaho growers tend to grow norkotahs until they get really big, and instead of having 50% No.1 potatoes they end up closer to 100%.
“If you try to sell way more than the demand, there’s still only a limited supply of customers anyway,” Sutton said.
Bench Mark Potato’s growers have 5,000 acres, all of which are burbanks, with the exception of about 100 acres of norkotahs, Sutton said.
“We’ve been with a number of restaurants for a number of years, which we’ve sold on burbank, and we plan to keep building on that,” Sutton said. “It’s a good product, consistent, and we don’t have much trouble getting it moved.”
Beesley said more consumer education would be beneficial, as it would allow consumers to understand some of the inconsistencies they encounter.
GPOD of Idaho still maintains a 100% russet burbank product line.
“I describe us as a simple niche,” said Calvin Butler, sales. “I only want Idaho, and I only want a burbank, and some even say I only want GPOD.”
Kevin Searle, general manager for Shelley-based GPOD, said he has no reason to explore other options. Russet burbank is all the business he needs.
“Idaho’s latest thing is to be a one-stop shop for potatoes, but we don’t do that,” Searle said. “The famous Idaho potato is the russet burbank.”