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Green Thumb Farms to expand Maine potato universe

This month, potato lovers are getting a chance to try a new variety that hasn’t been seen in New England before, the result of a partnership between Fryeburg’s Green Thumb Farms and Hannaford Supermarkets. If it works, new kinds of potatoes might be introduced to a wider range of Maine stores.

Mike Hart, director of sales and marketing for Green Thumb Farms said the Farmers First program, launched in December, aims to solve a farm-to-store-to-consumer issue — how to introduce new varieties of potato to consumers efficiently.

With the program, participating stores can track sales of a new variety offered on a limited basis, then work with the farm to produce the variety if they want to sell it long-term.

The approach also gives Green Thumb Farms a chance to find out what consumers want in a potato. Hart said that the yearly program will involve different retailers, as well as different varieties of potato.

The first round of the program will last until supplies are gone, likely by the end of this month, he said. The farm has supplied Hannaford with 105,000 2-pound bags of Queen Anne potatoes.

It’s not the first time new potato varieties have been in stores, but it’s a new way to focus on marketing and consumer feedback, he said.

“In the past we’ve [offered new varieties] and they get lost on the shelf,” Hart added. Frequently, too, new varieties from potato farms get tossed into 5- or 10-pound bags with other potatoes.

Farmers First is a chance to offer a “litmus test” for stores to determine if they want to carry a new variety. “We’re invested in finding out what consumers like,” he said.

With 2-pound bags, smaller than what’s usually offered, someone can buy the new variety without making a huge commitment to it.

As explained on mainebiz.biz, the plan is to expand and partner with retailers every potato harvesting season in the fall, providing the sample variety for a limited time and allowing stores to determine if it’s catching on with customers.

If stores want to carry a Farmers First variety, the retailers would then work with Green Thumb on producing it. He said there’s already been interest from retailers besides Hannaford.