It makes sense that potatoes are rebounding from nearly a decade of negative news.

Potatoes are on the right side of the plate

Greg Johnson
Editor

I always thought potatoes were the perfect food during the recession. They are a good value, nutritious, versatile and they taste good. I know in my household, potato purchases increased.

I wasn’t alone.

At its annual meeting March 10-11 in Colorado Springs, Colo., the U.S. Potato Board celebrated the good news.

President Tim O’Connor said NPD Group research showed per-capita consumption of potatoes increased from 67 annual eatings in 2009 to 74 eatings in 2010, the first increase in seven years.

In addition, consumer attitudes toward potatoes are improving.

At the height of the low-carb diet trend, 34% of consumers held negative attitudes about potatoes and their nutrition in 2004. That number was down to 18% in January 2011.

As O’Connor talked about potatoes’ big carb competitors of rice and pasta, one image kept coming to my mind: half a plate.

The new U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines recommend half our plate be filled with fresh produce for each meal.

Potatoes get to go on the half with fruits and vegetables. Pasta and rice are on the half with cheese, meat, bread, etc. A dinner with steak, salad, baked potato and bread is balanced.

Substitute rice for potato, and you’re way out of balance on your plate.

I asked O’Connor if the new icon benefits potatoes.

He said potatoes are on the “right” side of the plate, and rice and pasta are on the “wrong,” but he doesn’t think USDA drives many consumers’ meal choices.

Still, he said it’s likely the board will incorporate half-a-plate into public relations messages later this year.

O’Connor doesn’t want people to see potatoes’ resurgence as just part of a value proposition. He said the board, in addition to the supplier community and regional potato groups, has worked hard presenting potatoes in a more favorable light.

“It’s still America’s favorite vegetable and side dish,” he said.

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CGTFBL. It just rolls off the tongue, huh?

All kidding aside, the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League had a lot to celebrate at its annual meeting March 13-15 in Rancho Mirage, Calif. In its 75th year, the league has seen record revenues, success in fighting pests, fending off card check legislation, and good relationships with both political parties in California and Washington, D.C.

The B represents the league’s expansion of berries (and cherries) in its mission. Blueberries are the prime target.

League president Barry Bedwell said blueberry growers have a lot in common with grape and tree fruit growers, from hand labor issues to similar political goals.

Blueberries’ growth in the central and San Joaquin valleys make them a natural fit with the league, Bedwell said.

The timing couldn’t be better, with blueberries’ star on the rise in nutrition circles.

The California Blueberry Commission was established less than a year ago to help deal with one of the state’s fastest growing commodities.

California produced 23 million pounds of fresh blueberries in 2009, according to USDA, about 10% of the nation’s production.

Bedwell said the league is working with the commission and the California Blueberry Association, so there’s little overlap in benefits for growers.

He said as of now, the league represents a small percentage, but he expects it to grow.

The league’s members account for about 85% of California’s grape and tree fruit volume, and that’s a realistic goal for blueberries, Bedwell said.

He said there’s no plan to add a “B” to the CGTFL, but he’s not ruling it out.

E-mail gjohnson@thepacker.com

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