Inconsistency in the quality of standard 2.5kg retail packs of potatoes has been held responsible for a downward slide in main crop potato sales.
The technical director of Albert Bartlett Potatoes, Paddy Graham Jones, told industry professionals in Invergowrie that sales of fresh potatoes had fallen 2.8% overall in the last 12 months and, while baking potato sales were up 2.6% and new potatoes up 0.2%, main crop sales fell by 4.7%.
Speaking to the Scottish Society for Crop Research (SSCR) potato committee meeting, he suggested variability in the generic “white potato” product was responsible for the fall, and said data collected over the space of seven days had shown a standard 2.5kg supermarket bag of white potatoes could be filled with six different varieties which ranged in dry matter from 13.8% to 19.8%.
“In one week, the potatoes could be wet, and the next week they’re dry – that’s too much variability,” he said.
“We need consistency because these varieties will inevitably behave differently when they are cooked.”
Mr Jones also predicted pack sizes would fall in future and said sales of his company’s smallest pack of 500 grams had grown in five years from 4.8% to 7%. However, he warned smaller pack sizes would have a knock-on impact on the industry because larger packs often led to wastage, which adds to sales figures.
Turning to the use of plastic, Mr Jones said only 3% of potatoes are sold loose and, even if that figure doubled, the industry would still need “a lot of plastic”.
Looking at other consumer trends, he said the “heavy buyers” of main crop potatoes were retired people so it was essential to attract younger consumers to the fresh market through the use of social media. He also predicted growing interest in veganism would have little impact on sales despite potatoes being a “vegan-friendly product”.