Fish and chip shops are slowly starting to reopen after weeks of lockdown, but it is expected to be too late to save some tattie growers in the south from suffering large financial losses.
Scottish growers are likely to be shielded from the worst of the impact of the near-closure of the food service sector – and chip shops in particular – as seed and pre-packed potatoes for supermarkets make up the bulk of the market here, and the latest figures indicate sales of fresh and frozen potatoes in supermarkets rose by 28% in March.
As AHDB prepares to launch a £350,000 nationwide consumer marketing campaign to boost sales, the levy body revealed stocks held by growers at the end of March totalled 1.19 million tonnes, some 20% higher than the same time last season, and 5% above the five-year average.
Significantly, these figures include only the first week of the impact of lockdown.
AHDB’s potatoes strategy director, Dr Rob Clayton, said the specialist nature of the potatoes used for each part of the market meant some growers could suffer large financial losses.
“If you’ve got a shed full of potatoes that were meant for making French fries, you might currently be unsure whether a year’s worth of work to grow and store them will amount to anything – it’s a stressful situation,” he said.
“The wider industry has been meeting to work through what can be done at pace, we hear that supermarkets are taste-testing different varieties, for example. But this will only apply to a small proportion of what’s in stock.”
Perthshire grower Pete Grewar, who is the farmers’ union’s potato committee chairman, pointed out fresh potatoes were already in high demand in supermarkets as well as farm shops and vending machines.
“Early in the crisis sales exploded at our own shop and vending machines and everyone wanted a bag of tatties when the supermarket shelves were emptying – and it was like that UK-wide.”
He welcomed the announcement of the AHDB’s campaign, which will launch on May 11, and emphasised the need to continue to promote potatoes as a healthy, locally-produced, versatile food.
AHDB will also launch a trade portal next week where wholesale potato buyers and merchants can post requirements for potatoes, and growers can post available stocks.