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Wilcox Fresh forms partnership to offer ‘Zingers’ in Canada

Wilcox Fresh in Rexburg, ID, the exclusive marketing company for Floyd Wilcox & Sons Inc., will now be offering its “Potato Jazz” steam kits of fresh baby potatoes with seasoning packs in Canada, but under a different brand name.

“We are partnering with the Little Potato Co.” in Edmondton, Alberta, Canada, and have worked on the Canadian version of “Potato Jazz“ which will be called “Zingers” in Canada, said Jim Richter, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

“It is the same product basically” in Canada as in the United States, other than the name, he said. Each microwavable steam tray contains a pound of “either reds, yellows or the mixed medley” along with seasoning pack. “Five minutes in the microwave and it is ready to serve” after topping the potatoes with the seasoning and a little olive oil or butter.

“Those particular potatoes” are not Idaho-grown but “are coming out of Washington,” Mr. Richter said. “Once Washington finishes, it will shift to Canada,” and then in the spring it will shift to California.

In Idaho, the company’s early Russet Norkotah crop was showing “very nice” quality, but   “early yields are off somewhat” and “the sizing is not as large as we originally anticipated, so you are going to get a good divergence of sizes across the spectrum” as opposed to the traditional mix of “a lot of big sizes” in the Norkotahs, he said.

As the Norkotah harvest moves “closer to our home base in Rexburg,” Mr. Richter said, “we are also seeing a good crop coming on there in terms of quality. But we do anticipate similar yield decline per acre as we have seen in other parts of the state.”

As for the Russet Burbanks, “there was such a late start to planting this year, with the cold, wet spring that we had,” that the early test digs are showing smaller yields than usual — a decline of about 20 percent.

Wilcox anticipated killing the potato plants, the first step in preparation for harvest, about two weeks later than normal, hoping to give the Burbanks more time to grow. The later that process is pushed back, however, the greater the risk of encountering problems from an early frost.

After “we kill our plants in the field,” he said, “we like to leave [the potatoes] in the field 21 to 23 days” before digging. “What we find at Wilcox is we get better set on the skin and better quality, and the product holds up better” for both retail and foodservice customers.

In addition to Idaho-grown Russet Norkotahs and Russet Burbanks, Wilcox Fresh will be handling red and yellow potato varieties “out of the Minnesota-North Dakota area,” Mr. Richter said. “The company we are partnering with up there will start digging around mid-September. Lynn Wilcox [president of Floyd Wilcox & Sons] and I were up there with our regional manager for the Northeast, Mike Hart, two weeks ago, and we walked the fields and did some 10-foot digs there.” The test digs showed that “the yields are going to be down compared to last year, but the quality of the reds and the yellows looks excellent.”

Wilcox continues “working on our supply chain efficiency project that we started last year,” Mr. Richter said. “We are continuing to look for opportunities to move our product closer to our customers and to improve the ways of getting it there.” The company is exploring “options on how we can … get the product to customers as cost effectively as possible,” using rail as “a catalyst” in that process.

“We are currently in the Southeast” with rail deliveries and are “looking at other parts of the country where we’ve got strong market share, to improve those efficiencies.”

On the farming side, “under Lynn Wilcox’s leadership, we are continuing to look for ways to use less fertilizer and less pesticides on our product” which “goes hand-in-hand with our whole commitment to sustainability and good agricultural practices,” he said.

New on sales at Wilcox Fresh is Nicole Rumsey, who was recently promoted from sales assistant. “This is her second tour of duty at Wilcox,” Mr. Richter said. “She has been back about two years. She is putting a lot of focus and energy in the foodservice side.”