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    New Research Enlightens On Effective Potato Merchandising

    EAGLE, Idaho -- With accent lighting increasingly popular in supermarkets, scientists at the University of Idaho Extension here have conducted research to show some lights work better than others, at least at showcasing potatoes.

    EAGLE, Idaho -- With accent lighting increasingly popular in supermarkets, scientists at the University of Idaho Extension here have conducted research to show some lights work better than others, at least at showcasing potatoes.

    The study showed that certain bright overhead lights speed the rate at which potatoes turn green, and that's a consumer turn-off. On the other hand, the scientists were able to identify what type of lights flatter the spud, but without compromising its integrity.

    The Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) said the study offers other recommendations for merchandising potatoes. Seth Pemsler, v.p. of retail for IPC, said the research is extremely useful because it helps the IPC understand every aspect of the potato. In this case, the lighting research helps the Idaho Potato industry educate retailers on how to maximize the quality of potatoes in their produce departments.

    "We continually work with our retail partners to help them design optimum display conditions for Idaho potatoes," said Pemsler. "We pride ourselves on being the leading experts on potatoes and this type of research is invaluable to us. We applaud the efforts of the scientists and we appreciate the ability to practice what we learned. The ultimate benefit is that the consumer is going to be assured the consistent quality that is our hallmark."

    The Idaho Extension potato specialists who conducted the study affirm that accent lighting works, but what might work for many fruits and vegetables does not promote good results for potatoes. The scientists evaluated fluorescent (two types), halogen, ceramic metal halide, fiber optic, and fluorescent lighting with filter. They measured the different light sources' effects on potatoes inside specially constructed "light rooms."

    During nine days in light intensity comparable to retail levels, potatoes under fiber optic lighting turned green at the slowest rate. Spotlighted in the produce aisle, their shelf life would be a half-day to a full day or even longer, the researchers estimated. The study showed that fiber optic lighting -- or a combination of fiber optic accent lighting and standard fluorescent lighting -- will help retard greening in the retail store yet highlight the commodity for consumer eye-appeal.

    "We recognize the conundrum that this research presents our retail partners, but there are several short-term and easy to execute recommendations that will significantly lower the potential for greening," said Pemsler. For instance, the IPC's retail promotion directors encourage produce managers to rotate the potatoes in the displays at night, and/or to cover the potatoes at night with a light-blocking material.

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