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Potatoes & Onions: A Love Affair

Still indispensable with new varieties and fresh-cut products

In a world that celebrates such culinary darlings as microgreens and Jerusalem artichokes, potatoes and onions are still an invaluable part of any kitchen. Flavorful, pungent onions and always comforting potatoes are both so highly nutritious and versatile they are still essential to any cuisine.

Potatoes found their way to Europe via Spanish ships during the sixteenth century. After initial disdain, it became apparent the homely vegetable could grow easily in cooler climes with poor soil while yielding enough food to sustain whole families and their livestock. Northern Europeans developed a taste for potatoes—and the rest is history.

Shrinking Demand Spawns Innovation
Despite consumer interest in healthier eating, consumption rates for some commodities, including potatoes, have seesawed. Growers and suppliers in the industry are well aware of this fact, and have been working to put potatoes—in bulk, fresh-cut, and microwave-ready forms—back into the hands of consumers. From school children and millennials to Gen X and Baby Boomers, there’s a potato for you.

A top draw for spud suppliers is more convenience. Kevin Stanger, president of Wada Farms Marketing Group, LLC in Idaho Falls, ID sees many new opportunities in packaging that address convenience. “Our ‘Microwave in Bag’ line features graphics that highlight the timesaving convenience to consumers,” he says. The company also offers several potato and package sizes to align with household size.

The growth of low carbohydrate diets such as Atkins and South Beach have also been a factor in potato consumption. Promoting protein over starches, many believe these diets contributed to a nearly 25 percent decline in all forms of potato consumption.

Ed Romanelli, vice president for sales and marketing at Chicago-based Agrow Fresh Produce, Inc., opines, “Consumers tend to take what they see and hear in the media as fact and many of today’s diets have demonized potatoes and carbohydrates. Potatoes are a healthful, almost perfect food—low in calories and high in potassium and Vitamin C, but the challenge is getting this message to the public.”

Other foods vie for the limited amount of carbs people are willing to put on their plates. Besides rice and pasta, “Potatoes also have to compete with cauliflower, being marketed as a substitute,” points out Harris Cutler, president of Race-West Company in Clarks Summit, PA.

Hot Potato(es)
Potatoes USA, a trade group that supports the nation’s commercial potato growers, categorizes the over 100 commercially-grown potato varieties into seven types: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling, and petite. While 46 percent of potatoes grown are the familiar russets, growers have been experimenting with new cultivars developed from red, white, gold, and blue potatoes.