Scientists at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in the US claim that the new potato will slot into the rising consumer demand - driven by the Atkins dietary regime - for food products low in carbohydrates.
"Consumers are going to love the flavour and appearance of this potato and the fact that it has 30 per cent fewer carbohydrates compared to a standard Russet baking potato," said Chad Hutchinson, an assistant professor of horticulture at the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, adding that the new potato, developed by HZPC, a seed company based in the Netherlands, is not a genetically engineered crop.
Low carb diets have taken off in the US and are starting to gain ground in Europe, particularly in the UK. According to market research firm ACNielsen, one in five Americans - 30 million - are currently following such a diet. They estimate that 17 per cent of 10,000 US households recently surveyed have someone looking to cut the carbs and up the proteins. But, add the researchers, the figures showing the number of people who have tried a low-carb diet but jacked in the regime are just as compelling.
"The jury is still out as to whether the low-carb diet has staying power," said Todd Hale, senior vice president of ACNielsen.
The new low-carb potato could provide farmers and food industry participants with new opportunities for a market hit by the Atkins trend. Recent figures from ACNielsen's tracker for fresh potatoes shows a decline in dollar sales but a flat performance on a unit basis, indicating that price declines are driving much of the overall dollar sales declines.
Hutchinson, a potato expert, said five seasons of evaluation in his research program at UF show the low-carb tuber can handle Florida weather extremes and is ready to be marketed as a 'premium, gourmet potato'. UF is the first test site in the United States for the European import. Available to consumers in January 2005, the new spud will be marketed under a yet-to-be determined name, and it is expected to boost Florida's $120 million potato industry.
The US researcher said that 3 ½ ounces of the new potato contain about 13 grams of carbohydrate compared to around 19 grams in the same size serving of a Russet Burbank potato.
"Although potatoes are not part of the Atkins diet, the fact of the matter is that potatoes contain no fat, and they are a good source of fibre, protein and vitamins. They have vitamin C and B-6, and they are low in sodium and high in potassium. And, potato skins are an excellent source of fibre," he added.
Independent research in Canada confirmed the potato's low-carbohydrate profile. Hutchinson said it is due in part to the lower specific gravity, which relates to the amount of starch in the potato, compared to the more widely recognised Russet Burbank baking potato.