The media’s insatiable appetite for health issues is at least partly to blame for the slow down in growth of the processing potato sector, according to the director general of the Potato Processors Association, Richard Harris.

While in excess of 50% of consumed potatoes are processed, growth in the 4.5bn market has slowed to just 1% a year since the millennium. Indeed, currently the projection is for a small decline in the market in 2005, he says.

The two main processed sectors of crisps and French fries are both showing declines of 1% and 2% a year respectively.

“Most of the reasons are health issues, whether it is BSE, salt, pesticide residues or obesity – the British press has an insatiable interest in food safety,” he says.

“And recently the very word ‘processed’ has been given a negative slant by the media.”

That media frenzy has to be fought against, Nick Vermont, cheif executive of McCain says. “I’m fed up with being the jibe of journalists. That is why we’ve launched McCain Fat or Fiction campaign.”

The campaign will be conducted in red-top tabloid newspapers, women’s magazines and on radio and TV, aims to promote the message that McCain’s oven chips have just 5% fat.

“It is frightening the number of people that think oven chips are made from dehydrates. It is possible to eat chips every day and eat healthily,” Mr Vermont claims.

The company is developing a new healthy option range, McCain’s Alternatives for schools, which includes the fried chip product, Delights, which has 6.5% fat. “We want to seen as part of the solution, rather than being part of the problem.”