Odd as it may sound, Idaho retailers have been experiencing fresh potato shortages lately, John O’Connell of Post Register reports.
Several produce departments throughout the Gem State were sold out of every potato consumer bag and loose spud by Tuesday, as consumers seeking to stock their pantries for the coronavirus outbreak bought foods that store well by the cartload.
“It is strange. I didn’t think I’d ever see a shortage, at least at the store level, of potatoes in Idaho,” said Travis Blacker, industry relations director with the Idaho Potato Commission.
Reports show consumer bag prices skyrocketed during the course of five days due to the coronavirus-related demand. On March 11, USDA Market News reported the price of five, 10-pound baled bags of fresh Russet Norkotahs shipped from the Twin Falls and Burley district at $5 to $6, mostly $5.50. That price had reached $6.50 to $7 as of March 16.
Potato prices were already strong due to a tight supply, caused by a lower yielding 2019 crop and losses caused by early frost. Market News reported 50-pound cartons of restaurant-grade fresh Norkotahs were selling for $22 to $23 on March 16, compared with $8.50 to $10 on the same date a year ago.
“Most grocery stores have loosened their specs on what they’ll accept from shippers, too,” a Market News official said.
In addition to experiencing stronger demand from retailers, Blacker said Idaho fresh potato packers have reported a significant spike in sales from customers who buy cartons directly from their sheds.
Dean Gibson, an owner of Magic Valley Produce in Paul, said his shed usually sells a couple of 50-pound cartons of fresh potatoes each day. Lately, Magic Valley has been selling four to five boxes to individual customers.
Randy Hardy, chairman of the board of Sun Valley Produce in Paul, said his company has been selling significantly more cartons directly from the front door of the plant as people seek to stock up on food. Hardy said online sales of insulated 15- to 20-pound fresh potato gift boxes that are shipped via UPS have taken off recently.
“People outside of potato country are going online and looking for potatoes and seeing ours, and our internet sales are off the charts,” Hardy said. “They’re popular at holiday time but they’re even more popular now.”