Muir: Idaho potato industry has been ‘upended’
Since mid-March when Americans were encouraged to stay home to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Idaho potato industry has been upended. From unprecedented demand at retail, to a close to 50% decline in restaurant transactions across the country to a potentially smaller 2020 crop due to cuts from frozen processors, every sector of the Idaho potato industry has been impacted.
The Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) has virtually kept its doors open during this pandemic, putting measures in place to protect the staff so they can continue to safely work and not miss a beat in addressing the issues facing our industry.
At retail, during the month of March, potatoes led the produce category with a 65% increase in volume. With consumers being asked to reduce their trips to the grocery store to every two weeks we’re seeing an increase in sales of larger size bags of potatoes. We’re also seeing a large number of foodservice-size potatoes enter the retail market. In response, the IPC is moving 10-ounce and larger potatoes into bags and launching a jumbo bin promotion. Feedback from shippers and retailers has been exceptionally strong with participation increasing daily. The promotion applies to product shipped between April and May.
The foodservice industry expects to see between five and seven million hospitality service workers lose their jobs in the next three months. For the week ending March 28, total restaurant transactions were down 42%. It’s estimated that more than 97% of all U.S. commercial restaurant locations are restricted to off-premise sales only.
In response, the IPC is proactively reaching out to distributors with non-commercial accounts (e.g., healthcare and military), as they are serving more people versus fewer. The proposals and ideas being presented involve a cost-efficient, nutrient-dense, versatile and portable food product that can solve numerous needs for the various channels.
Additionally, the IPC changed the website banner on the main foodservice page and is directing operators to recipes well-suited for take-out/delivery.
Lastly, the IPC is providing support to the devastated industry by partnering with a nonprofit industry organization, CORE (Children of Restaurant Employees). The IPC will hire chefs to develop new recipes for the IPC’s foodservice recipe database and the chefs will donate their fees to CORE. The campaign and its supporters will be featured in the June issue of Flavor & The Menu magazine.
With so many consumers purchasing larger than usual amounts of potatoes, we launched an educational campaign featuring tips on how to properly store potatoes so they last as long as possible. The tips were distributed to 500-plus news outlets around the country and via an audio news release reaching 12 million listeners on 1,200 unique radio stations in all top 25 markets. We’ve also started distributing our monthly recipe newsletter, “Let’s Eat,” every week inspiring readers to try new and different potato dishes. And, the IPC’s social media engine continues to keep Idaho potatoes top of mind for close to 75,000 followers.
Unfortunately, we had to call the Big Idaho Potato Truck home in early March. As soon as stay at home orders are lifted, the Truck and the Tater Team will be back on the road promoting America’s favorite vegetable.
We are doing everything in our power to help the Idaho potato industry through these uncertain times. Stay safe and God bless.
Top photo: The Idaho Potato Commission has been working with foodservice operators on how to best utilize potatoes in their take-out menus.