The virus has had a major impact on the global potato industry since its discovery and spread earlier this year, writes Cedric Porter, editor of World Potato Markets magazine.
Covid-19 was on the rise as farmers in the Northern Hemisphere prepared to plant potatoes. Many in Europe and North America have planted more table varieties in response to increased consumer demand (people were forced to stay at home and cook more often). But at the same time, restaurants around the world were closed, and this led to the fact that the area for growing varieties for processing decreased: the demand for these potatoes fell sharply.
As a result, US potato production declined by at least 5%, while potato processing fell by more than 10%. At the same time, in the five western European countries with the largest potato cultivation areas (Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK), production increased by about 4% compared to last year, as large areas in France and Germany "outweighed" the slight decline in the Netherlands and Great Britain.
The crisis led to a 20 percent increase in household consumption of table potatoes in April-May in many countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Household consumption of potatoes declined as restrictions eased, and by September it was only marginally higher than in the previous year.
Restrictions on the sale in restaurants inevitably led to a decrease in demand for potato products and the varieties of potatoes that are used for their production. However, the numbers suggest that the drop in demand was not catastrophic. An analysis of global markets shows that trade in potatoes and potato products declined 3,4% to € 13,240 billion for the Northern Hemisphere from August 2019 to July 2020. This figure was still the second highest after the 2018/19 record. Sales of frozen fries were down 5,1%, but a further 6,3% of ware potatoes were exported.
As restrictions on dining returns, demand for processed foods is likely to decline again, but the global potato industry hopes that these losses will be offset by increased sales of table varieties for home cooking. The crisis has shown many buyers that potatoes are nutritious, versatile and valuable food. While convincing people to keep buying more potatoes for home use and start buying them again when restaurants reopen will be a daunting task for the rest of the 2020/21 potato season and beyond.
Cedric Porter, Editor, World Potato Markets
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