PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — While potato industry officials say 2015 was a slower year for sales of fresh Maine potatoes, one variety did buck the trend — red potatoes.
Of the more than 20 varieties of potatoes planted by growers across the state, the russet burbank is the most popular. Known as a dry, white spud that is good for baking, mashing and making french fries, the russet accounted for 39.4 percent of all 51,000 acres of potatoes planted in Maine last year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
But t he fresh potato category finished 2015 with sales volume down 2.2 percent overall and the largest-selling russet burbank down 3.2 percent, according to Nielsen FreshFacts data.
Red potato varieties, such as Norland, Viking and Chieftain, however, finished the year slightly ahead with volume rising 0.4 percent. Red potatoes rang up 23.3 percent of all fresh potato dollars, and accounted for 26.8 percent of all units of fresh potatoes sold, according to Nielsen.
The most popular variety of red potatoes planted by growers in Maine is Norland, which grew to represent about 4.1 percent of the potato crop last year.
Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, said recently that he was not surprised to hear about the popularity of red potatoes growing.
“I have been hearing that for some time,” he said. “I am not sure why we are seeing this red potato trend, but I am really not surprised by it. We do not plant a lot of red potatoes in Maine, we plant a lot more fresh white. But there are a fair number, because P ineland Farms Naturally Potatoes Mars Hill puts out a redskin mashed potato product.”
Red potatoes are a waxy variety that have a smooth, thin, edible skin. They are low in starch, and prime candidates for boiling and roasting, and also work well in salads and au gratin dishes.
Flannery said that white potatoes are often more popular simply because people “shop with their eyes instead of their tastebuds.”
“But you get to restaurants or special events and roasted red potatoes are a popular menu item,” he said Wednesday. “They are catching on.”