18 July 1998

CHALLENGE FOR BPC

Few arable crop sectors are undergoing as much structural change as the potato industry. David Millar reports on the first year of the British Potato Council.

NO REMINDER has been needed in recent seasons of either the volatile nature of the potato market or the fickleness of the weathers influence on disease and yield.

This season is no exception – a split marketing season can be expected. The few early planters who managed to get a crop in at the normal time can expect potentially good rewards while the majority must await the effect on their markets of crops maturing later than anticipated.

It all adds up to a challenge to the British Potato Council as it enters its second year of existence, but the signs are there of renewed vigour in supporting the marketing of the UK crop.

Among the BPCs main objectives are increasing potato consumption by 2% a year, higher quality standards, and lower unit costs of production for producers. Much of its first 12 months have been taken up with continuing the overhaul of the structure left by the former PMB. But besides closing down regional offices, and making impressive internal savings through reorganising its computer system, the BPC has begun to organise new promotions designed to develop niche UK markets.

In doing so it has capitalised on new regional thinking on the part of the supermarkets which now handle two-thirds of sales of potatoes. In the PMB days, early producers were frequently heard to complain about the high profile advertising campaigns mounted for Jersey Royals – allegedly spending at least £750,000 in recent years. This year, the BPC organised early potato dashes for the cameras in major cities to promote Cornish, Welsh and Scottish earlies as they came to the market.

This £500,000 promotional campaign also included television advertising for British early potatoes and, for early birds, a Sunday breakfast television appearance by British Potato Council chairman David Walker.

In Crops w/e 15 August 1998, growers will receive a copy of the Crops Marketing Guide to Potatoes, produced in conjunction with the BPC, with support from Novartis. The guide sets out the background to todays potato market and highlights likely developments to which growers should become attuned.

One of the key sectors which the BPC insists must be treated seriously by professional growers is the potential offered by growing for the organic market. Both quality and consistency of supply is currently lacking from British sources, with the result that 70% of current organic potato supplies are imported.

But the BPC isnt just about marketing but has roles to play in commissioning research and development, in seed export promotion and in providing market information. Its newest campaign is designed to target waste which is costing growers millions of pounds in potential savings.

Increasing pre-pack ware exports is another BPC target.