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Updated: November 13, 2020

Fryeburg farm, Hannaford hoping for home run as potato partnership grows

A man holding a bag of potatoes in each arm with a giant pile of potatoes behind him Courtesy / Green Thumb Farms Mike Hart, director of sales and marketing for Green Thumb Farms, in Fryeburg, says the first edition of a potato testing partnership with Hannaford went so well in January that a new one, featuring Fenway Reds, is rolling out next week.

A potato test-marketing partnership between Hannaford Supermarkets and Green Thumb Farms, of Fryeburg, got a solid hit in its initial outing, and now is looking for a home run.

Up to bat this season: the Fenway Red.

The red potato is the latest entry in the Farmers First program, which was launched a year ago and aims to solve a farm-to-store-to-consumer issue — how to introduce new varieties of potato to consumers efficiently. 

Unlike the normal marketing process for potatoes, where varieties are grouped together based on a general type, the program allows Hannaford to track a new variety, then work with the farm to produce and sell it long-term. The retailer can track sell rates through UPC codes, which isn't possible when a potato variety is mixed in with other varieties.

Mike Hart, director of sales and marketing for Green Thumb Farms, said the program also gives the business a chance to find out what consumers want in a potato.

"We're invested in finding out what consumers like," Hart said last year, when the program launched.

The program's first entry, the Queen Anne, "was a hit," Hart said Thursday. The oblong potato with a smooth skin has now been rolled into the regular potato offerings at supermarkets, grouped with the other yellow-skinned varieties.

The farm is looking to score with Fenway Reds, whose name is a nod to the famed home of the Boston Red Sox. The spuds are round, unlike many red potato varieties, which tend to trend oblong. In fact, Hart said, the Fenway Reds are the most consistently round potato Green Thumb Farms has ever grown.

And, like the Queen Anne, they take well to the sandy soil at the 2,200-acre farm, which is on the banks of the Saco River in the Mount Washington Valley, a microclimate that suits Fenway Reds perfectly, Hart told Mainebiz.

A bunch of round red potatoes in a mesh bag with a label that says Fenway Reds with a drawing of Fenway Park on it
Courtesty / Green Thumb Farms
Fenway Reds are the latest variety of potato to be tested with consumers in the Farmers First partnership between Green Thumb Farms and Hannaford Supermarkets.

The Farmers First potatoes are sold in two-pound bags that are clearly labeled and have their own display, so that consumers can test them out without making the kind of potato commitment that comes with the standard five- and 10-pound bags.

The Farmers First program is also a way to let consumers know that potatoes actually have different varieties, Hart said.

"When a consumer buys an apple, they can find the variety they like," he said. Apples are usually separated in stores by variety — Fuji, Cortland, MacIntosh, etc. Potatoes, the "apples of the earth," have varieties, too, but few consumers would realize it.

"Different varieties work for specific uses, just like apples," Hart said.

New varieties tend to "get lost on the shelf" as they mix in with the other varieties under a more general label, such as red, russet, yellow or thin-skinned. New varieties from potato farms also get tossed into five- or 10-pound bags with other potatoes. "There's only so much you can do," given the potato growing season, storage space and the space in stores to display products, Hart said.

A bag of yellow potatoes with a Hannaford Supermarkets label also has a small attached label that says green thumb farms Queen Anne
Courtesy / Green Thumb Farms
The Queen Anne potato, which was sold at Hannaford Supermarkets for a limited time in January as part of the Farmers First program, is now included in the store brand potatoes bag, but the bags carry a separate label letting consumers know Queen Annes are included.

To that end, Hannaford is now including a label on its four-pound bags of store-brand yellow potatoes that says the bag includes Queen Annes, so that consumers who enjoyed the potato during the initial Farmers First rollout can find it among its fellow yellow spuds.

The Farmers First collaboration is part of an ongoing working relationship Hannaford has with Green Thumb, a store spokesperson said earlier this year.

"Over the past few years, we have worked closely with them in a very dynamic and collaborative manner — starting with brainstorming potato varieties and innovations that can provide our customers with what they’re looking for," said Ericka Dodge, manager of external communications.

"Any time we can work with a local farmer and provide high quality food while reducing food miles, we try to take advantage of that," Dodge said. "Add to that, Green Thumb Farms’ attention and commitment to sustainability aligns well with Hannaford’s commitments and values."

Hannaford works with more than 2,000 local producers, offering more than 6,000 local products in its 181 stores in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York. The Scarborough-based company, owned by Ahold Delhaize, has 63 stores in Maine.

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