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Farm Fresh Direct expanding products, pack options and alliances

MONTE VISTA, CO — Going into the 2014-15 season with vigorous growth in virtually every aspect of its operations, Monte Vista-based Farm Fresh Direct of America is releasing five new spud varieties, offering several new pack options and announcing its partnership with Albert Bartlett, the largest fresh potato shipper in the United Kingdom.

Each of the events alone is newsworthy, and combined they represent significant expansion for the 30-plus grower-owned corporation. Launched some 15 years ago by a smaller group of third- and fourth-generation potato growers, Farm Fresh Direct has seen steady growth, with a merger in 2011 that enlarged the base to include out-of-state growers, providing increased supplies on a year-round basis for customers.

This year’s leap, with its new product and packaging roll-outs, positions FFD where Vice President of Business Development Dave Yeager said it wants to be: “We want to be all things potatoes for our customers. With all our varieties, our organics and our transportation services, we really do provide one-stop shopping.”

The five new varieties are all now grown commercially in the San Luis Valley and are being introduced to consumers this season. They are the Golden Russet, Natural Blush, Crimson Sunset, Petite Merlot and Petite Chardonnay, and all are proprietary varieties to FFD.

Farm Fresh and Albert Bartlett are rolling out a sixth variety, the famed Albert Bartlett Rooster, which originated in Scotland, in October.

Overall organic acreage has been tripled, with certified Golden Russet and Rooster varieties part of the total organic volume.

More than 50 new varieties were trialed, and over the next several years a half-dozen will be introduced to U.S. consumers. Yeager said the Golden Russet is destined to be a hit with its smooth, gold skin and russet shape. It is packed in five- and 10-pound poly bags for retail and in 50-pound cartons for foodservice, and it is available in both conventional and organic categories.

Tim Wall, marketing manager and general manager for Express Bake and specialty, said the Golden Russet is “a great all-purpose potato. It is also the best tasting russet we have ever trialed, suited to every method of cooking — baked, fried, mashed, roasted. But it’s especially good baked because the thin skin becomes light and crispy.”

The Natural Blush, both men said, has exceptional flavor, and Wall said it’s “phenomenal mashed.” The round potato has a cream-colored skin, white flesh and pink-hued eyes. The Natural Blush is packed in five-pound poly bags for retail.

Uniquely oval, the Crimson Sunset has smooth, red skin with very shallow eyes and pale yellow flesh. It retains its firm texture when cooked, making it equally suitable for broiling, grilling, steaming and baking.

Both the Petite Merlot and Petite Chardonnay are, as implied by their names, smaller sized than the other new varieties. The Petite Merlot is similar to a fingerling but more oval, and its red skin and pale yellow flesh have good eye appeal. This new variety has great storage qualities, and it is packed in 2.5- and five-pound poly bags and in 14-ounce microwave and oven-safe trays.

The Petite Chardonnay, also available in 2.5-pound consumer poly bags and 14-ounce microwave and oven-safe trays, is a versatile addition to any meal with bright yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. It maintains its firm texture and can be broiled, boiled, grilled, steamed or roasted.

“All of our varieties have been chosen based on their superb taste and cooking qualities,” Yeager said. Wall added that criteria include agronomics — how well the potatoes produce and store compared to the cost to do so and if they are sustainable — as well as appearance.

“The specialty potato category is growing rapidly,” Wall said, adding that consumers are responding well to “the wealth of choices.”

The Rooster expands consumer choices even more. “It’s not a red. It’s not a russet. It’s a Rooster, and we have it as conventional and organic,” Yeager said.

The unique qualities of the Rooster make it a standout among potatoes, the men said. “It has pink skin and cream-colored flesh with a nutty, buttery taste,” Yeager said. Wall added, “The flavor is just amazing. It is the taste that sells this potato, absolutely.”

Roosters are packed in 2.2 and 4.4-pound pillow packs under the “Rooster” label. Yeager said the Expo packing facility, one of five in the FFD group in the San Luis Valley, is adding nearly 20,000 square feet of production area with two of the latest state-of-the-art packing lines to accommodate the specialty packaging.

He noted that teaming with Albert Bartlett is a win-win for both operations. FFD is a leader in U.S. potato growers with ongoing expansion of its products; it introduced the PotatOH microwavable line of Express Bake PotatOH, Express Bake Sweet PotatOH and Express Bake PotatOH Fingerling Medley several years ago and continues to add to and improve the value-added category. Albert Bartlett, founded more than 60 years ago, accounts for one out of every five fresh potatoes sold in the United Kingdom.

“We bring these new varieties at a value,” Yeager said. “We’re launching them at competitive prices.”

With its farms in Colorado, Nevada, Nebraska and Kansas, Farm Fresh has also enlarged its geographical presence with operations in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. As it produces internationally, it ships to other countries as well.

“We are developing varieties to go to Mexico,” Yeager said. “We want all of our customers to know they have flexibility to call us with their needs. We can build trucks to fill every order.”