Maine: Potato Variety Caribou Russet has had a slow start

Three potato varieties developed in Maine: Sebec, Caribou Russet (AF3362-1) and Easton

It’s been more than a year since a new potato variety known as the Caribou Russet was unveiled. But so far, it’s been rather hard to find — getting a new potato onto store shelves isn’t as simple as it may seem.

Maine has launched many potato varieties. The Easton, the Sebec, and old classics like the Katahdin and the Kennebec, among others. But none in recent years has gotten quite so much fanfare as the Caribou Russet.

Don Flannery, who heads the Maine Potato Board:

“This one has some flavor, which is unique and separates it a little bit from the traditional russets you buy in the store.”
Flannery calls it a true dual-purpose potato. It’s equally good baked, fried and mashed, and it tastes, he says, like the potatoes your grandmother would remember.

But the Caribou Russet has yet to be found in major grocery stores. Flannery says that’s because launching a new produce item, with a brand attached, means a lot of uncertainty for both retailers and growers.

Don Flannery:

“There’s a certain amount of risk because, you know, if you raise it assuming or believing you’re going to have a market for it and you don’t, then you’ve got a tremendous investment there.”
It’s been a bit of a circular puzzle. Flannery says in order for growers to plant enough acres of Caribou Russet to supply a market, they need to know that stores will carry it. But for stores to carry the potato, they need to know that they can sell it, and they need to know there’s a good supply.

Don Flannery:

“If we have any luck at all, which I think we will, I think next season will be the year you’ll be able to see it in your major chains and your major supermarkets.”
But there’s some good news for the Caribou Russet. Flannery says a number of Tradewinds Markets from Milo to Blue Hill have agreed to offer it starting Dec. 17, with a couple of independent grocery stores getting shipments just in time for Christmas dinner.