PEI

'Stop the spudpocalypse' campaign targets shoppers in Massachusetts

A new social media campaign is targeting shoppers in Massachusetts, warning them of rising prices and empty shelves as long as potatoes from Prince Edward Island are blocked from the United States. 

Massachusetts is the second-largest U.S. market for P.E.I. potatoes

Exporters on P.E.I. would usually sell about $2 million a week of fresh potatoes into the U.S. market. (Submitted by Bill Enserink )

A new social media campaign is targeting shoppers in Massachusetts, warning them of rising prices and empty shelves as long as potatoes from Prince Edward Island are blocked from the United States. 

Traditionally, Massachusetts is the second-largest U.S. market for potatoes from Prince Edward Island, but an export ban imposed by the Canadian government in November put a sudden stop to the potato pipeline.

The campaign is called Stop the Spudpocalypse and is using different social media outlets, including TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

"We started a campaign in Massachusetts, very similar to the one that we've been running in Puerto Rico," said Kendra Mills, director of marketing for the P.E.I. Potato Board.

"Which is a consumer-based campaign to make them aware of the situation that we are in, and that they're now in, and hopefully contacting their lawmakers to express their opinions about that."

One of the slides in the Stop the Spudpocalypse campaign, aimed at Massachusetts shoppers looking for P.E.I. potatoes. (YouTube)

On Nov. 21, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced it was suspending the fresh potato trade to the U.S. following the discovery of potato wart in two Island fields, bringing exports to a sudden halt, usually worth about $120 million per year to the P.E.I. economy.

'It's a huge number'

Mills said the campaign also touches on the issue of food insecurity, and why this should matter to American consumers. 

"The price of food is rising. This is something that is going to exacerbate that problem even more, that does not need to be happening," Mills said.

"We want to make sure that consumers are aware that this is contributing to that problem, and it doesn't have to be so." 

Mills said the term "spudpocalypse" was a deliberate choice.

"That speaks to the size and enormity of the problem. We feed nine million Americans every year. We ship 300 million pounds of potatoes to the U.S. every year, and that's a hard number for people to really fathom," Mills said. 

"Even for ourselves, it's a huge number. And so we needed do something to really communicate the severity of the issue and the enormity of it." 

Political influence

Mills said Massachusetts is a big market for P.E.I. potatoes, but also was chosen because of the political influence of some of the legislators from the state.

"There are some fairly influential lawmakers down there, and so these emails are going to go to those people, different senators and congressmen and women down there," Mills said. 

One of the messages in the Stop the Spudpocalypse video explaining why people in Massachusetts can't get P.E.I. potatoes. (YouTube)

"We're hoping to raise this issue with people who hopefully can have an impact on it, from the state side."

Mills said the potato board is also receiving more interview requests from media outlets south of the border. 

'It's going to be really tough'

Greg Maheras of J. Maheras Co. and Chelsea Creek Farms in Chelsea, Mass., said his company was expecting to purchase 400 to 500 truckloads of P.E.I. potatoes over the course of the season.

He said it's important to raise awareness of the ban on P.E.I. potatoes, and the impact it's having south of the border.

"I do think it's important that the board does try to educate as many people as possible,"  Maheras said.

"That one of the reasons you're going to see prices rising as high in the potato industry is because of this shutdown of potatoes from P.E.I.

Prices are already higher, much higher, and they're just going to keep on going that way​​— Greg Maheras

"Prices have consistently been rising across the board on all different varieties, and it's been harder and harder to find good-quality potatoes on a consistent basis," Maheras said.

"Then, on top of that, the trucking situation, both on your side of the border and ours, has made everything even worse."

Potatoes from Island exporter Red Isle Produce would usually have been heading down the eastern seaboard, from Maine to Florida, and into Puerto Rico as well. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

On any given day supermarkets in Massachusetts are seeing shelves that are 10 to 20 per cent empty of all kinds of products, because of supply chain issues, he said.

"Everyone's having trouble being able to source anything in a timely matter and it's not getting any better."

Maheras said he worries about the growing impact on consumers the longer the ban remains in place.

Greg Maheras, of J. Maheras Co. and Chelsea Creek Farms in Chelsea, Mass., says his company was expecting to purchase 400 to 500 truckloads of P.E.I. potatoes over the course of the season. (Submitted by Greg Maheras)

"The way I kind of describe it is, toward the end of the season, in April and May, when all the storage potatoes start disappearing, prices start to climb. It's harder to get them, harder to get good stuff. We're kind of experiencing that now, in January," Maheras said. 

"When we hit April and May, it's going to be really tough here. And that's what I'm hoping we don't have to deal with, but, as of now, it looks like we will … prices are already higher, much higher, and they're just going to keep on going that way."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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