Twenty-year potato industry veteran Lance Poole of Idaho-based Eagle Eye Produce Inc. was unequivocal in using the descriptor “hot” to describe the current potato market. “I’ve only seen a ‘hot’ market like this one other time in my more than 20 years in the industry,” said the executive vice president of the Idaho Falls company. “That was in 1998-99 soon after I started here. At that time, we were selling cartons of russets for $35. Right now, we are at $30 for a carton and it (the f.o.b. price) is still increasing.”
Gary Askenaizer of Progressive Produce Corp. in Los Angeles was equally impressed with the current marketing situation for fresh potatoes. “The market has been red hot for the last two weeks,” he said on March 24. “Concerns over the coronavirus have blown the roof off of consumer demand. We already had a short crop and now you add this extra demand. Who knows how long it’s going to last?”
“Totally insane” is how Tim Worden, account manager for RPE Inc., Bancroft, WI, described the current potato and onion marketing situation. “For all varieties of onions and all varieties of potatoes demand far exceeds supply.”
Askenaizer said russets are typically sold from storage until the new crop begins its harvest in mid- to late summer. If demand continues at its current level, the storage crop just won’t last that long.
Poole lamented that typically potato growers have a bumper crop looking for buyers. “It’s too bad we don’t have this kind of demand when we have the supplies,” he said, though adding that the COVID-19 situation is not the reason anyone wanted that increase in demand.
The Eagle Eye executive surmised that because of their extra long shelf life, potatoes are a produce item that consumers are buying in large quantities to have on hand in case of an emergency.