“Buy local” has been a running theme for San Luis Valley potato growers and shippers in the last couple of years.
In fact, with the peaks and valleys of fuel prices resembling the geography of their home region, shippers are noting the importance keeping their product as close to home as possible.
The buy local program has been working for awhile, and it likely will be a major theme this year, said Jim Ehrlich, executive director of the Monte Vista-based Colorado Potato Administrative Committee.
“We’re going to push the buy-local thing,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of advance advertising in Colorado and neighboring states. We’ll see how it has turned out.”
Les Alderete, director of grower development for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc, said the program has attracted a loyal following for various reasons.
“I think they’re picking up some steam,” said Alderete, whose company sources spuds out of the San Luis Valley. “We’ve seen more and more stores asking for them. I think what’s pushing that is fuel costs, the economy and the environmental push on that.”
The program has been effective, said John McCormick, partner in McCormick & Milne LLC, a Monte Vista-based shipper.
“I think it has made the consumer more aware of where their food is coming from,” he said.
Purchasing potatoes that are grown close to home makes sense, McCormick added.
“It doesn’t make much sense for a lot of us to have Idaho potatoes in Alamosa, Colo., any more than people in Idaho would need Colorado potatoes,” he said. “I think they’ve put it together and decided it’s costing us a little more money to freight them in there. I think it has made people more aware of what’s grown in the area. They’re still going to go out and find the quality that the customers are going to require.”
The regional loyalty is strong with some consumers, McCormick said.
“There are customers that live in Colorado that want Idaho potatoes, just as there are customers in Idaho that want Colorado potatoes, but as a whole, most of the industry is kind of geared to buying local,” he said. “Everybody is trimming their belts, and it’s not just the produce industry.”
And, it’s not just in Colorado, he added.
“It’s nationwide,” he said. “The only way to do that is to figure out what’s costing you money and why. It doesn’t make much sense to a get something shipped a long way in for $8 when it’s costing $2 here.”
Metz Potato Co. LLC has come to believe strongly in the buy-local program, said Bill Metz, co-owner of the company.
“The last five years or so, we’ve started running potatoes for other growers in the valley,” said Metz, whose grandfather launched the business in the 1940s. “That’s something we’ve done more and more of and look to do more and as the years ago on.”
David Tonso, co-owner and sales director at Canon Potato Co., Center, said the retail trade comprises nearly 90% of his sales. Many of those customers, he said, are not far away.
“For most promotions, customers are fairly close, where we have the freight advantage,” he said. “Most promotions are on 10 pounds. That seems to be the cornerstone — 10-pound russets.”