Time to rediscover our lifelong love for humble potato

THE inherited love that Irish people have for the humble spud is growing again after a brief cooling off in the 430-year relationship.

Time to rediscover our lifelong love for humble potato

New market research by Kantar Worldpanel presented at the recent National Potato Conference in Dublin showed growth in both value and volume for the first time in seven years.

Shoppers are apparently buying potatoes more often — making 34 trips in the year.

However, the volumes they purchase on each trip still haven’t recovered to 2007-2008 levels.

Potato volume purchased by the average Irish household in 2007 was 140kg per year. That had fallen to 119kgs in 2015.

The market in Ireland has a farmgate value of €76 million and overall is worth an estimated €160m to the economy with a 96.6% penetration into 1.6 million households.

Meath, Dublin, Louth, Wexford, Cork, and Donegal are the main production counties for the crop which was first planted here in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh in the gardens of Myrtle Grove, his home in Youghal, Co Cork.

The country currently has 500 growers who produced 336,950 tonnes last year, with Roosters the most popular variety.

But there is clearly a need for greater consumer support for the crop, according to presentations to the recent the National Potato Conference, organised by the Irish Farmers Association, Teagasc and Bord Bia.

A decline in potato consumption in Ireland and Britain, particularly with 22-44 year old women, has resulted in the launch of a three-year €1 million European Union backed campaign for the generic promotion of fresh potatoes in these markets.

It has received EU funding with co-financing from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine in Ireland, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board for Britain and the potato industry representing packers and growers.

Bord Bia is managing the running of the campaign in Ireland. It is focused on younger consumers and is highlighting the fact that potatoes offer enormous potential within the world of modern cooking and with the added health and nutritional benefits that they have.

The campaign — Potatoes: More Than A Bit On The Side — showcases potato trends and tastes from around the world with a wide selection of recipes which include meat, vegetarian and fish dishes. These are available at www.potato.ie

Dietitian Aoife Hearne told the National Potato Conference that for health and weight loss, people really need to move away from the idea that following a diet is the best approach, and instead move to a place where they are focusing on wellness, eating intuitively, and moving towards natural foods.

Potatoes, a non-processed carbohydrate, are a great example of a natural, fat-free, gluten-free and nutrient-rich food that more people should be including as part of a balanced diet.

“Unfortunately, ‘carbophobia’ has struck the weight loss market hard. Yet, what many forget is that carbohydrates provide essential nutrients and much-needed energy for the whole body, but particularly for brain function.

“It’s important that Irish people re-think their relationship with potatoes, by breaking with their focus on traditional uses and start appreciating them as a low fat meal ingredient for use in a variety of ways — including leaving the nutritious skin on,” she said.

Lorcan Bourke, sector manager for potatoes at Bord Bia, said the collaborative initiative will see potatoes presented as a naturally fat and gluten-free ingredient that can be used in many different ways and for a variety of occasions.

“The aim is to positively change the perception of younger consumers about potatoes and show that they are indeed, as the campaign name highlights, more than a bit on the side,” he said.

Michael Hennessy, head of Crops Knowledge Transfer in Teagasc, said the production of salad potatoes grown in Ireland is an area for potential growth.

“The industry has all the elements needed to increase salad potato production as we have suitable soils, existing infrastructure and a market anxious to sell Irish produce,” he said.

IFA national chairman Jer Bergin told the conference said the new grocery regulations will have to lead to a fundamental change by retailers and merchants when it comes to paying their suppliers promptly.

Growers surveyed by IFA report they have to wait between 45 and 90 days for payment, with some having to wait beyond this.

“Primary producers are vulnerable and there is a serious obligation on both merchants and retailers to step up to the mark and comply with the new legislation. It provides for payment within 30 days and also include the provision of contracts, which will provide security to growers,” he said.

Mr Bergin said the issue for growers is two-fold: the unsustainable farmgate price and the delay in receiving payment.

“Growers get less than 30% of the consumer price, but they carry 80% of the cost of getting potatoes to consumers. This imbalance is unacceptable and threatens Irish potato producers,” he said.

Mr Bergin said pre-pack potatoes sell in the shops for five times the price (€1,500) per tonne paid to the producer, illustrating the huge gap that exists between what the consumer pays and the small share received by the grower.

IFA potato committee chairman Eddie Doyle said this season has been better for growers, albeit on the back of two disastrous years for prices.

“Last year saw the lowest plantings on record, which is not surprising given the poor prices in 2013 and 2014.

“We are currently at a sustainable acreage and growers should take this into account when planting this year,” he said.

Mr Doyle said the IFA will be meeting with the major retail bosses in the coming weeks to point out that growers cannot survive on the returns available at the moment.

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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land

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