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Potatoes cross the Pacific

Delegation helps expose Southeast Asia to Klamath Basin potatoes

By JILL AHO Herald and News Dec 17, 2009

Submitted photos - Timberline Lodge executive chef Leif Benson shops at an Asian market for ingredients to use while preparing potatoes in a marketing demonstration. Trade representatives visited Taiwan, the Philippines and Hong Kong during their 11-day trip.

Chefs, importers, restaurateurs, retail store owners and regular consumers were all exposed to Klamath Basin potatoes during a recent trade mission to Southeast Asia.

Mixed bags of red, yellow, white and purple potato varieties packaged by Wong Potatoes were sent ahead of a delegation from Washington and Oregon.

Everywhere the delegation went, Leif Benson, executive chef for Timberline Lodge, prepared the potatoes in new and inventive ways that intrigued consumers in Taiwan, the Philippines and Hong Kong, said Wong Potatoes President Dan Chin.

“He was the star of the show,” Chin said. “He’s a really innovative chef. There was pretty good interest.”

Localizing dishes

Tailoring his dishes to the local culture, Benson prepared potatoes to take the place of stir-fry noodles and made them into thin sheets that resembled lasagna noodles, Chin said.

Oregon State University potato researcher Brian Charlton also went on the 11-day trip.

“Chef Benson’s contributions were invaluable,” Charlton said. “His demonstrations showed alternative cooking methods for fresh potatoes, which could replace other starch based foods, like wheat and rice, which constitute a significant portion of Southeast Asian diets.”

A fruitful trip

Funded by a federal grant, the trip included Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba, her Washington counterpart Dan Newhouse and local potato grower Lon Baley, who is serving as co-chair of the International Marketing Committee of the United States Potato Board.

Chin said time spent in Taiwan and Hong Kong likely will prove fruitful.

“From the trip to Taiwan, we made some contacts. They put an order together before we left Taiwan,” Chin said. “The whole mission was well received.”

In-store demonstration

Leif Benson demonstrates the many ways Oregon grown specialty potatoes can be prepared during a recent trade mission to Southeast Asia.

Part of the trip to Hong Kong included in-store demonstrations and sales at Park ‘N’ Shop stores, a large chain of retail grocery stores that includes high-end markets. Wong Potatoes sent 1,000 2-pound bags of mixed potatoes, which were available in the stores for purchase.

“Consumers in Southeast Asia trust American potato products, and they acknowledge the superior quality of Pacific Northwest potatoes compared to potatoes from other countries,” Charlton said. “Pacific Northwest potatoes just looked better than potatoes from other countries.”

One Park ‘N’ Shop store, Taste, was located in the center of a six-story shopping mall, Chin said. A cross-section of culture was in the store with British, Chinese, Japanese and Korean consumers all present, Chin said.

“They were intrigued by the colors in the package,” Chin said. Most of the American imported potatoes found on store shelves were Russets, he said.

The potatoes sold for about $6 U.S. The same package of potatoes would retail for between $2.99 and $3.99 in the U.S., Chin said. Although he’s heard nothing official about the Hong Kong portion of the trip, Chin said there are good signs that Park ‘N’ Shop will carry the specialty potatoes in 27 of its stores.

“They liked the product and they sold the product well,” he said. “They were pretty excited about the whole program.”
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              Page Updated: Friday December 18, 2009 02:54 AM  Pacific

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