SEATTLE -- Safeway's division here became the first supermarket operator in the United States to stock potatoes from NatureMark, a Boise, Idaho-based biotechnogical seed company.
Roughly 125 Safeway units have been merchandising NatureMark's Russett Burbank potato variety on their shelves since mid-February, sources familiar with the program said.
The division, which supplies stores as far north as Alaska, is stocking the product only in its Puget Sound region in Seattle.
NatureMark developed the potato several years ago using a combination of plant biotechnology and traditional breeding.
The test will remain in the market "as long as the potatoes last," said Louise Pollock, Aronow & Pollock, the New York City-based company that handles public relations for NatureMark, which is a unit of the St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.
Safeway, based in Pleasanton, Calif., is promoting the potatoes with several in-store sampling programs, as well as with a variety of point-of-sale materials, Pollock said.
In addition, a full-page advertisement, paid for by NatureMark, ran in a local Seattle newspaper and announced that Safeway would begin carrying biologically engineered potatoes from NatureMark.
The color advertisement featured the NatureMark logo, a small illustration of a farmer in a field, in the lower right-hand corner. In the opposite corner, the ad read, "NatureMark Potatoes now available at Safeway Food and Drug," and included the Safeway logo.
Most of the ad was taken by a color photo of a variety of vegetables in baskets and plastic bags, with the phrase, "Biotechnology: making the world's food better," superimposed over the produce.
Under the photo, a few paragraphs of copy promoted the idea of bioengineering, saying it will bring to the consumer "improved nutrition, increased yields and crops that are resistant to drought and frost."
A quote in the ad from Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, supported the concept of plant biotechnology as well. Kleckner was quoted as saying, "Plant biotechnology is an important tool in providing for today's, as well as tomorrow's world."
In one paragraph, the copy stated that in about 33 years, the world's population will have doubled, while "current trends" show "farmers face impossible supply demands in the years to come.
"We must continue to look for new and different ways to provide for the future," the ad further stated.
Only one other chain, Sobey's, based in Stellarton, Nova Scotia has carried and promoted the product so far, according to NatureMark. That chain ran a test promotion in about 170 units in April, 1996, and plans to repeat the promotion this year, Pollock said.
As previously reported in SN, In mid-1995 NatureMark received its final federal go-ahead for its NewLeaf potato, developed with plant biotechnology. But the company said at the time that it had not expected the variety would become available to consumers until the next year.