U.S. potato sales sag but still strong

For the Basin Business Journal | October 7, 2020 1:00 AM

A decline in demand for U.S. potatoes internationally as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic caused total potato exports to fall almost 3 percent for the marketing year 2019-2020, according to Colorado-based marketing group Potatoes USA.

Citing data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. potato exports fell 2.6 percent in value and 2.2 percent in the equivalent fresh weight volume, with the greatest declines coming in the March-June period at the end of the marketing year, Potatoes USA said.

The potato marketing year begins in July.

However, Potatoes USA said that frozen potato exports fell by 4.3 percent, with the biggest declines coming in sales and shipments to China (27 percent), Vietnam (17 percent) and the seven nations of Central America (13 percent).

“We saw some declines, obviously it’s the end of the marketing year, which brought the overall total for the marketing year down a bit, but not that much, given that we started the marketing year strong,” said John Toaspern, chief marketing officer for Potatoes USA.

However, sales to some countries were higher despite the pandemic, with exports to Mexico rising 12 percent, 7 percent to Taiwan and 6 percent to Thailand. Sales to Mexico rebounded from significant declines after the country imposed a 20 percent retaliatory tariff on U.S. frozen potatoes.

Dehydrated potato sales also rose nearly 1 percent despite a significant decline of 25 percent to Thailand, 20 percent to the Philippines, and 11 percent to Taiwan. However, sales of dehydrated potatoes to South Korea rose 32 percent, the European Union rose 31 percent, and 23 percent to the nations of the Middle East and North Africa.

Toaspern said the pandemic is still affecting U.S. potato sales, with sales in July of 2020 still sagging a bit. However, he added that sales in July 2019 were so strong that it’s hard to make a year-over-year comparison.

“I don’t feel like we’re down as much as we are on a historical level, comparing to a really strong month,” he said.

He also believes that as societies learn to live or come through the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. potato exports will recover.

“I see things picking up for sure. I think that if you look at Asia in particular, most of the markets have the pandemic under control, not gone, seeing businesses opening back up, kids going back to school, restaurants reopening at some level,” Toaspern said. “Certainly it’s not going to where it was, instantly, but we are seeing gradual improvement.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.