Organic spuds don’t make the grade

One potato in every three harvested by organic grower MB Organics in Scotland never reaches the supermarket, a study from the Food Chain Centre has shown.

It means that the grower misses out on up to 30% of the premium available for organic potatoes.

The problem was discovered when the FCC brought Sainsbury’s buyers together with representatives of pack-house Greenvale and the grower to ‘walk the chain’.

Sainsbury’s is considering revising its specifications to improve the proportion of potatoes that reach the shelf, if doing so would not affect customer value.

“A small change could have a significant effect on grower and pack-house profitability,” the FCC report says. The grower is also hoping to reduce mechanical damage to the crop at harvest.

Greenvale, which was already reorganising its packing line before the study to reduce the number of fork-lifts it needed, welcomed the findings.

Mark Blackshaw, business analyst at the packer, said: “The work of the Food Chain Centre has helped us to identify how we can make our production processes more effective.

“By working together, we can increase profitability for everyone involved in the chain.”

Forecasting is also to be improved in order to reduce the number of potatoes which pass their sell-by-date. At present both Sainsbury’s and Greenvale work on independent forecasts.

Joanne Denney-Finch, chairman of the FCC, said: “If one in three organic potatoes is not ending up on the supermarket shelf, then there must be something that can be improved.

“In this particular case, all participants in the chain could benefit by sharing information about consumer demand, and looking again at the needs of the customer.”