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Pointing a fingerling toward retailers

copingfingerA great many of the people who visited grocery stores last week were greeted by scores of empty shelves, and nothing breeds panic like the fear of being unable to get basic supplies.

Among the staples that comfort people are potatoes. A smaller crop of Russets and the COVID-19 pandemic are limiting the availability of Russets at retail. However, creative thinkers feel they have an alternative to the dearth of Russet availability — and a way to fill those empty shelves.

Southwind Farms has been growing and shipping fingerlings for 21 years, primarily to foodservice customers. As COVID-19 ravages the foodservice industry, Southwind now has a surplus of fingerlings that could go a long way toward satisfying shoppers’ potato demand.

While most fingerlings at retail are sold in bags, the COVID-19 pandemic presents an opportunity for retailers to fill their shelves with bulk fingerling product. Doing so would lower the price that may otherwise inhibit sales, said Robert Tominaga, president of the Heyburn, ID-based Southwind Farms.

“Bulk is easier on supply chain and it’s easier to get fingerlings into bulk displays,” he added. “It would also satisfy some of this anxiety of not having potatoes in store. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

One of Southwind’s shippers is Wada Farms. Eric Beck, director of marketing for Wada, said he has spoken to some retail partners and it is an option under consideration. He added that getting product to retailers would take only a matter of days.

“There is no difficulty in getting fingerlings to them,” said Beck. “There is no hold up at Southwind, there is no hold up with us, so it’s feasible. Its about retailers seeing what other non-traditional  potato options they have and how they may want to consider how to provide some sort of potato option outside of the traditional pantry Russet.”

In the past, consumers' comfort level with preparing fingerlings has played a role in inhibiting sales. To ease that stress Tominaga suggested that retailers either display recipe ideas or direct consumers to the Southwind website where recipes can be found. While he did say fingerlings don’t cook like a Russet, they are still potatoes.

“It’s not rocket science. Fingerlings are very easy to cook: you don’t have to peel them, you don’t have to cut them up,” said Tominaga. “In fact, we encourage that you don’t peel them, they are more nutritious with skin.”

With the expected Russet void, Tominaga also said that Southwind has “product available and should have supply until the new crop comes up in August.”

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