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Covid-19 shakes up the world potato market

Covid-19 shakes up the world potato market

The virus has had a major impact on the global potato industry since its discovery and spread at the beginning of the year, writes Cedric Porter, Editor of World Potato Markets.

Covid-19 emerged as growers in the Northern Hemisphere were preparing to plant their potato crops. Many in Europe and North America planted more table varieties in response to increased demand among shoppers as they were forced to stay indoors. But the closure of restaurants across the world to help contain the spread of the virus meant processing potato growers cut back their areas in response to the sudden drop in demand.

The result is at least a 5% drop in the production of potatoes in the USA, with the drop in the output of processing potatoes more like 10%. In the five main western European potato-growing countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands and UK) production is around 4% higher than last year as larger areas in France and Germany outweighed small declines in the Netherlands and UK.

The crisis led to a 20% increase in consumption of table potatoes at home in April and May in many countries, including France, Germany, the UK and the USA. As lockdown restrictions were eased, the consumption of potatoes at home fell and by September they were only marginally up on the year before.

The restrictions on restaurant sales inevitably led to reduced demand for processed potato products and the potatoes that are used to make them. However, figures suggest that the decline in demand was not disastrous. Analysis by World Potato Markets shows that the global trade in potatoes and potato products was down 3.4% to €13.240 billion in the Northern Hemisphere potato season of August 2019 to July 2020. That figures was still the second largest on record after the 2018/19 record. The volume of sales of frozen fries was down 5.1% but an extra 6.3% of ware potatoes was exported.

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As restrictions on restaurants return, then demand for processed product is likely to slip again, but the global potato industry will be hoping that can be balanced by increased sales to consumers at home. The crisis has shown to many shoppers that potatoes are a nutritious, versatile and good-value food. Convincing those shoppers to keep on buying more potatoes for home use and to start buying them again when restaurants reopen will be the challenge for the rest of the 2020/21 potato season and beyond.

Cedric Porter is the Editor of weekly global trade, production and price briefing World Potato Markets. See here for more: or contact him on +44 1892 543444 or email World Potato Markets has its own podcast called PlanetPotato. It celebrates all that is good about the potato and can be listened here:  Follow PlanetPotato on twitter @PlanetPotatoPod 

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