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Idaho russets the backbone of Nonpareil’s business

nonpariel Nonpareil Farms/Idaho Potato Packers in Blackfoot, ID, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2021, has been specializing in russets from its inception, and russets continue to be its focus.

“I’m not doing any other varieties these days,” Stephen Abend, the company’s chief operating officer, told The Produce News. “We are strictly focused on the highest quality russets available. That has been the backbone of our business for 75 years. We feel like we excel in that category, and we want to continue doing what we have always been good at.”

When Idaho, which had traditionally been a russet-producing state, began to diversify into other potato varieties a few years ago, Nonpareil experimented with them as well. “We have packed all sorts of different potato varieties,” Abend said. “But at the end of the day, Nonpareil was built on the best brown russet potato available, and moving into the future, that is what we want to continue to provide.”

That future is now, as the 2020 potato harvest is under way.

“We started new crop on August 10” with Russet Norkotahs, Abend said. “Quality has been excellent. We are very happy with maturity. Shape and size look good to this point. Ambient temperatures have been conducive to harvesting and getting a fair amount of product out of the ground daily, and it looks like the temperatures are going to work with us from here on out now and hopefully allow us some good digging days.”

Nonpareil works with various potato growers in Idaho aside from the company’s own production. “I anticipate that I will pull from one end of the Snake River Valley to the other,” he said.

But not just any grower can make the cut. The growers Nonpareil works with are those the company has identified “as consistently delivering what we consider a Nonpareil-quality potato,” he said.

“A majority of my potatoes are coming off of the Fort Hall Reservation” within a 30-mile radius of Blackfoot, Abend said. “This week [in late August], we began running potatoes off of the reservation as we are moving eastward, and we continue to see excellent quality and great skin set.”

Yields are running about average, he said.

All of the potatoes Nonpareil ships are either Norkotahs or Burbanks. Except for running some Burbanks during the holiday season from November through December, “we are strictly Norkotahs from August through April.”

Nonpareil packs potatoes in a range of retail bag sizes from three pounds to 15 pounds, in both poly and mesh, in “the classic bailers, both paper and corrugated. And of course, we are still packing in bins as well,” he said.

The company also packs 50-pound corrugated cartons for foodservice.

“My brand offerings continue to be the Nonpareil brand” as well as the company’s original IPP (Idaho Potato Packers) brand, the Angus brand and the Magic brand, which is used for No. 2 foodservice packs,

“We are looking at new bag technology” in an effort to reduce raw material utilization and thus “help reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.

As the company enters its 75th season as Idaho Potato Packers, it is planning some promotions specific to the foodservice industry in 2021 to celebrate that milestone, Abend said. Details will be forthcoming as the new year draws closer.

Photo: Stephen Abend, Dandee Hale and Rulon Robinson of Nonpareil.

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