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What the numbers tell us about potato and onion trends

Potatoes are the top vegetable crop in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Idaho and Washington produce half of the nation’s annual supply, with about 63% sent to processors for fries, chips, dehydrated potatoes and other products.

The remaining 43% help make up the 34.1 pounds per capita consumed in the country, but how have retailers adapted their ad strategies to meet consumer need?

To find the answer, let’s take a look at the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service Retail Report to see how promotion and packaging have changed over the five-year period from October 2013 to October 2018.

What story do the numbers tell us about the potato and onion consumer?

Organic is hot
Organic is becoming a big promotion item for retailers. The average number of stores with organic potatoes on ad increased from 672 per week to 1859, up 177%. Onions saw a bigger jump, although the numbers were more modest, from an average of 302 stores with organic onions on ad to an average of 918, an increase of 204%.

During the same time period, conventional onion ads went up 45% to an average of 15,289 on ad per week. Potatoes increased 27%, to an average of 17,340 stores on ad per week. Drilling down to variety, yellow potatoes enjoyed the greatest gains over round red, russet and white. Total ads for yellow potatoes increased 117% from 2013 to 208; reds went up 53% and russets were up 11%.

White potatoes, however, are losing favor with retailers, with the number of ads dropping 37%.

Sweet onions, which the USDA designates “yellow, marked sweet” are the category leader for promotions, with an average of 6,215 stores on ad per week. Yellow onions came in second, at 5,937 ads per week in 2018, but it’s red onions that showed the greatest increase from 2013 to 2018. The average number of stores with red onions increased 95%, from 952 to 1859.

While growth in ads in the sweet onion category is a modest 20% from 2013 to 2018, organics have taken off. The number of stores with organic sweet onions on ad increased 511% from 2013 to 2018, from an average of 35 to 214 stores on ad.

Consumers size down
In the potato category, consumer demand for smaller packaging is clear. The number of retailers with 3-pound bags on ad increased in every variety, including white potatoes, with large gains even in the russet category. Ads for 3-pound bags of yellow potatoes increased 276%, and 269% for russets from 2013 to 2018.

When it comes to onions, bag trends are mixed, with red onion ads for 3-pound bags decreasing 71% from 2013 to 2018, and ads for 2-pound bags increased 344%; sweet onions saw the reverse—ads for 2-pound bags dropped 44% and 3-pound bags increased.

Variety trends
Ads for red onions saw the most dramatic gain from 2013 to 2018, up 95% compared to 67% for yellow, 41% for white, and 20% for yellow.

The shift in the potato category favored yellow over red: round red potato ads increased only 53% from 2013 to 2018 while yellow potatoes increased 117%; russets were up 11%, and white potato ads fell 37%.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.


Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.