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Alsum Farms & Produce bringing value-added ‘Fast & Fresh’ potatoes to market

Alsum Farms & Produce Inc. recently launched its “Fast & Fresh” value-added line, according to Rick Kantner, director of sales and marketing for the Friesland, WI-based company.

“The first item in the line is a 12-ounce microwavable bag — one or two servings — of triple-washed, ready-to-cook potatoes,” said Mr. Kantner. “The product is available in either red or gold potato varieties.

“We plan to expand the value-added line in the future,” he continued. “Additional items will be launched in the next 30 to 60 days.”

Alsum Farms & Produce is a family-owned grower-packer-distributor of a full line of fruits and vegetables. Many of its products are grown in the Midwest, which allows the company the advantage of offering locally grown products. Its transportation division, Alsum Transportation, has 29 tractors and 60 reefers, enabling it to deliver within 24 to 48 hours depending on the location. The majority of its customers are in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. Its customer base is comprised primarily of retail chains, but it also sells to foodservice operators, processors and institutions. In addition to its own farming operations, the company sources from grower-partners in Wisconsin, and it buys from other parts of the country during its gap periods. Alsum also offers Idaho potatoes.

“We deal in russets, red, gold, white and some specialty potatoes, such as Fingerlings and purples,” said Mr. Kantner. “We are beginning to see some growth in specialties, but the potato category continues to be driven by traditional varieties. The majority of what we grow and handle are russets, which we produce in several varieties.”

The company offers a wide range of packaging, and it private labels for customers. Its primary brand is “Alsum Farm Produce.”

Mr. Kantner said that this year’s Wisconsin potato crop ran late.

“Part of the reason was the intense amount of heat we had in July,” he explained. “It’s not good for potatoes. Everyone was eager to begin harvesting in early August, but we found that the crop had not matured the way we wanted. Now, in mid-September, we’re waiting for sizes to increase, and we want to be done by no later than the first week of October. Our yield will be about average.”

He added that it was a little too early to determine how prices will be this season, saying, “Right now, we’re seeing low pricing as a lot of potatoes are being harvested across the country that go from field to store. Consumption slows down a little every summer, so that creates some pressure, but things will pick up toward the fall season and the holidays. Retailers tend to promote potatoes heavier in cooler weather and during holiday seasons. We expect to see prices firm up as we move forward.”

Wisconsin, Mr. Kantner noted, is the third-largest potato-growing state in the United States. This creates a great opportunity for Wisconsin potatoes to become better known among U.S. consumers.

“Idaho has done a phenomenal job at marketing ‘Idaho’ as a brand name in potatoes,” he said. “I serve on the marketing committee for the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association, and we’re working hard to bring more attention to potatoes grown here.”

On a Saturday in September, the Association participated in a locally grown program in Madison, where members handed out over 1,200 bags of potato chips that had the Association’s name and ‘Grown in Wisconsin’ on them. Many people were surprised that the potatoes were grown in the state. A potato-sack race with Suzy Favor Hamilton, three-time Olympic runner and spokesperson for Wisconsin potatoes, helped excite the crowd.

Mr. Kantner said that the company is also looking for ways to help promote Wisconsin potatoes. Its updated web site will be running in time for the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in October, and Alsum is sponsoring educational programs with Future Farmers of America and other organizations. Additionally, the company is promoting other locally grown fresh-produce items to stress to consumers that Wisconsin produces much more than just dairy products.

“We are the number-two state in the nation for cranberry production,” he said. “We started selling cranberries on September 20.”

Alsum Farms & Produce completed its last facility expansion in 2009, which increased its production and storage facilities.

“The next expansion will be in production and office space,” said Mr. Kantner. “We hope to begin construction before the end of 2011 and hope to be completed in spring 2012.”

He emphasized the fact that the consumer trend for potatoes has taken an upward tick.

“Years ago, the Atkins diet and carbohydrate reports caused potatoes to trend downward,” he said. “But in recent years, consumers have recognized the high nutritional benefits, low calorie count, density and satisfying flavor of potatoes, so consumption is increasing. The slippery slope is that it is fresh potatoes people should be eating, not just French fries.”