SCOTTISH POTATO production continues to thrive in the current crisis, but with a collapse in the food service sector, fresh market suppliers could face increased competition from the processing market who are looking for a space on the shelves.

The SF caught up with Fraser Malcolm of the Scottish Potato Cooperative to hear how the potato market has been impacted by covid-19.

“Four weeks ago, it went absolutely crazy,” he said. “We were looking at double volumes for ten days to meet the huge surge in demand. However, orders have crashed dramatically since.

“The whole supply chain is starting to struggle as supermarkets can’t get enough vehicles; staff are going off in to isolation and there aren’t enough trays to get products on to the shop floor – not to mention people are more frightened of going to supermarkets amid the scare.”

He added that people are also likely to be more cautious about food waste and are living more frugally at this time - which he believes could be having an impact on demand.

There are 17 growers who make up the Scottish Potato Cooperative and between them supply 70,000 tonnes of consumption potatoes yearly into the fresh market. Fraser explained that the implosion of the food services sector in England could mean processors are vying for a place in the fresh market.

“Currently less than 10% of our potato crop is designated for processing, compared with 50% of England’s, so the decline of the food service sector doesn’t impact Scotland as badly,” he continued. “However, if England’s now surplus potatoes are offered to packers as a cheap option, then we might not be able to sell anything extra out with our agreed contracts.”

McDonald’s is one of the largest buyers of British potatoes, purchasing around 5000 tonnes per week – suppliers will now be hoping to find a home for this stock on supermarket shelves.

Supply-chain director of Cygnet PEP, Sandy McGowan, explained what difficulties processors are likely to face: “There is nothing to stop processors from selling to supermarkets, however, there is a differentiation between processing and fresh market varieties and standards and supermarkets favour big bright potatoes with a focus on aesthetics, where processors care only for factory efficiencies and a tasty product at the end.”

However, Sandy added that competition is healthy, and stressed that the focus right now should be reminding the public that potatoes make for healthy and cheap food choices. “We need to sell the positives of what we are doing – remembering Scotland is a nation married to producing fresh potatoes.”

Sandy’s main line of business is in exporting seed potatoes, a third of which are sold overseas. With a growing cycle of 3+ years, it is too early to predict if the current crisis has taken a toll on the seed market.

“Demand for Scottish seed potatoes remains strong. Scotland is the number one supplier in terms of health and quality in the world and so far, our growers continue to be resilient and are working hard during the current situation. With the growing cycles we operate on, it is difficult to predict any disruption at this stage, but we are confident there will still be demand for Scottish seed after covid-19 has passed,” he concluded.


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