Undersized russets are experiencing new life with marketing ploy called Castaways that highlights food waste.

Everyone knows the durability, quality, and size of the Russet Burbank. It’s for that reason they are the preferred potato of choice for most processors. Ostensibly, everything is measured against the Burbank and, if processor preferences are any indication, all fall short. One particular potato, the small russet, has been much maligned for its diminutive size, but no longer. Earth Fresh Farms (EFF), based in Burlington, Ont., has found a home for the small potatoes after its president Tom Hughes became fed up with the mounting food waste on perfectly good potatoes.

Tom Hughes
Earth Fresh Farms President Tom Hughes

“We’ve known for many years that small russet potatoes don’t have a home,” he explains. “Most growers in most growing areas in North America just leave those potatoes in the field when they harvest. That’s just a huge waste of nutritional value. If you’re a grower in certain provinces, you probably don’t harvest those potatoes or you throw them away or feed them to cattle. In a lot of cases, they end up in a cull pile, it’s just food waste.”

A primary use for farmers may be to ship them to a dehydration plant or feed them to cattle. If there’s not a plant or cattle nearby, they are invariably discarded.

It was due to that, that during COVID-19, Hughes began to look at the small russet. The possibilities of what he could do with the forgotten small russet made him dream up a new food line aptly dubbed Castaways.

“We started talking about maybe we can harvest these and offer them to consumers,” he says. “With sustainability becoming more of a buzzword, the retailers were more interested in trying to bring products to consumers with sustainability in mind and reducing food waste.”

According to the USDA, between 30 to 40 per cent of all food is wasted in the U.S. The number in Canada is even higher, estimated to be a 58 per cent waste rate of all food produced. The label on the package is full of text containing food waste factoids designed to educate the consumer and create a sense of converging ethics between both the consumer and EFF.

The retail response has been “very positive” according to Hughes, who now has agreements in place with more than 90 Sobeys stores in Canada and 1,100-plus Food Lion locations, one of the largest grocers in the eastern U.S., operating in 10 states. The team at EFF is also in negotiations talks to further its line of small russets under the name Great Spud Rescue with an international food retailer which would see demand more than triple.

Castaways potatoes
The bag that Earth Fresh Farms’ potato brand Castaways is sold in in Canada. Photo: Earth Fresh Farms

This fall will mark the first time they have enough supply for all locations and Hughes is eager to provide healthy, quality food during a time when food security is becoming a question of greater magnitude.

“Being in the food business, providing cheap and inexpensive to people, you really start to care,” he says. “Especially now with inflation being considerable in the food sector, we’re always trying to come up with new products that meet the demands of our customer base.”

Currently sold in five-pound bags between $1.49 and $2.99, the bags are a naturally priced lower for consumers. In addition, the bags themselves are fully compostable — including compostable ink, glue, the plastic vent view, now replaced by small holes, and nylon to seal the bags — and it’s in direct response to shifting consumer preferences.

“It’s pretty new to the marketplace, mostly in Canada,” he says. “The compostable bag is something that’s very exciting to consumers in the U.S. as well.”

Hughes is glad that, above all, more companies are paying attention to food waste and sustainability.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is an ethical pact [with consumers] that’s going to go a long way,” says Hughes.

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