Industry Leader Q&A: Duane Maatz, Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association

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Post Election
The two years of campaigning are finally over, and a new administration will take over in January. American voters seemed to put high hopes on President-elect Barack Obama, and his call for change resonated with them.

But what will a new administration mean for the potato industry? A change in leadership means there will be new appointees, and some issues affecting the industry will take greater priority.

For one, there likely will be a new head of FDA, which will mean a greater emphasis on enforcing the existing food safety rules. Government also may try to exert more influence on the food chain with a Democratic-controlled Congress. Traceability and labeling guidelines have been a priority, and I expect more mandatory rules.

The Democratic Party has typically been in favor of environmental protection, which could result in rules on spray drift, recordkeeping and application from USDA and EPA.

Fair trade agreements that already exist, such as NAFTA, will still exist but may be amended. Obama stated during his campaign that he wanted to work with Canada and Mexico to strengthen labor and environmental protections. His economic advisers are in favor of free trade, but only if it truly benefits U.S. interests.

The Farm Bill may finally be implemented. Obama supported the Farm Bill, even though some Democrats criticized it. The potato industry will likely benefit from the specialty crops portion of the new Farm Bill that will be in place for the next eight years or longer.

Industry Leader Q&A
Duane Maatz,
Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association
How did the Wisconsin harvest shape up this season?
It was good. Last year was a very large year and year down about 10 percent in harvested volume this year. Quality is good, yields are good and chipping quality is good. Growers in general are in good shape this year.

Were there any weather conditions that affected the crop?
The southern portion had a little rain early in the season and they had a lot of acres to be planted, so they were harvesting a little later. The only other thing was there were a lot of heat shutdown and night harvesting. The temperatures during the day were getting high, so some farmers chose to shut down and harvest at night. They shouldn’t have any problems as long they were checking temperatures while they’re harvesting.

I saw the processing report that had a small report of frost damage in one load, which I was surprised to see because the weather conditions hadn’t indicated that. That was just one batch and they were processed immediately, so there shouldn’t be any other issues.

Did acreage in Wisconsin go up or down in 2008?
It was pretty stable, but harvested volume was down. Seed acreage was pretty stable, too.

Are there any marketing initiatives or any other programs you're trying to accomplish at the association?
On the administrative side I’m trying to create a more formal marketing plan. I’m trying to create a plan that has a little more transparency. It’s nothing news-breaking, but I’m just trying to make a plan that is a little more clear as to the goals we’re trying to achieve. TEXT


Market Report
The decline in potato consumption seen over the last 10 years appears to be leveling off, and retail purchases of potato products are increasing, according to a report released in October by United Fresh Produce Association.

Fruits and vegetables typically track like commodities : As volume goes down, price goes up and vice versa. But the United Fresh data, compiled by the Perishables Group from March 30 through June 28, shows an increase in volume, sales dollars and retail price over the same time in 2007.

Potatoes ranked fourth among the Top 10 vegetables sold at retail for weekly dollar sales, following packaged salads, tomatoes and an “other produce” category. Potato products averaged $2,151 a week in sales, an increase of more than 10 percent from the same time last year.

In terms of volume, potatoes took the top spot, nearly doubling the volume of the second spot. Retail stores averaged unit sales of more than 3,020 each week, a slight increase over the previous year. Corn, in the second spot at 1,805 units, dropped almost 15 percent from the same time in 2007 but saw the highest price increase.

There also was good news for the potato industry in terms of retail pricing. The average retail price for potato products increased almost 10 percent, to 71 cents. That puts the product near the bottom of the Top 10 list, only beating out corn in average retail price.

Value-added potato products saw great growth after their introduction a few years ago, but the overall value-added market leveled off. However, value-added vegetable side dishes, which include potato products, increased 13 percent in average weekly sales to $366. Volume dropped slightly to 126 units a week, but average retail price was up almost 4 percent, to $2.90 a unit.

While potatoes didn’t make the list of Top 5 organic products, the organic category did show continued growth, according to the study. Organic vegetables averaged more than $1,000 a week in sales, up 22 percent from the same quarter last year. Volume, at 404 units a week, was up 14 percent. The average retail price for organic vegetable products was $3.46, an increase of 8 percent. While the segment did grow, organic vegetables account for less than 6 percent of the total produce market.

More than 13,000 supermarkets were included in the study, but not alternative format stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or club stores. Wal-Mart also was not included.


McDonald’s Packaging
PICTURE McDonald’s rolled out its new generation of global packaging in November. The packaging highlights the quality ingredients in the products, including the potatoes used to make the fries.

Through a blend of bold text and powerful images, the new packaging illustrates the high-quality ingredients and food prepared at McDonald’s, according to the company. McDonald’s new global packaging will be consistent around the world, using sophisticated graphics, photography and storytelling, with and without words.

The french fry container still reflects the traditional McDonald’s brand, but will include a picture of a potato being peeled and the text: “Why are our fries the gold standard? Because only a select number of potato varieties make the cut.”

The packaging will be introduced worldwide through 2010, bringing the food-quality story to 118 countries with McDonald’s restaurants. While the packaging will reflect a global framework, it’s flexible enough to accommodate 21 languages while sharing stories about the quality of McDonald’s ingredients in a way that is locally relevant for customers around the world.