By , Hannah Sparks
Published March 25, 2020
Air fryers and toaster ovens around the country may go cold this week as the potato industry takes a major hit due to soaring demand for spuds amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Now, potato farmers and distributors are working around the clock to keep tater-loving Americans full on the hearty vegetable, UPI reports, as millions take to their kitchens — some for the first time — to cook for themselves.
“Stores are selling out of potatoes as soon as they get them in,” says Blair Richardson, CEO of Denver-based food marketing agency Potatoes USA.
However, Richardson also assures that there is, in fact, plenty to go around — but it’s going to take a supply-chain shake-up to get more in supermarkets.
As many restaurants, caterers and other eateries have put their operations on hold indefinitely, potatoes will need to be rerouted to store shelves to serve individual consumers.
“It’s not that we’re out of potatoes,” says Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Boise, Idaho-based Idaho Potato Commission. “We have enough potatoes to get people through this crisis. It’s just that we don’t have them in the right place.”
Muir points out that grocery stores typically receive shipments of potatoes pre-packaged in 5-, 10- and 15-pound bags, while restaurants take orders of 50-pound crates.
So dreams of a healthier French fry haven’t been dashed entirely. Indeed, carb lovers may find themselves inundated with the root veggie as grocery stores — with no time to repack into smaller portions — are accepting outsized orders, and selling them to customers by the box-load.
“Supermarkets are putting these boxes of potatoes out on the floor, or stacking them on pallets and selling them in bulk,” says Randy Hardy, an Idaho potato grower.
Meanwhile, potato packers are working overtime, says Hardy, and farmers in spud-growing states, including Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Florida, California and Texas, are planning to plant and harvest even more this spring.
“I don’t think we’ll run out,” Richardson says. “Farmers are planting as many acres as they can with potatoes right now because of the new demand.”