By Olivia Cooper
SUPERMARKET orders for early potatoes are building, after a slow start.
The main problem has been the late season – loading of potatoes is 50% behind last year, according to British Potato Councils Rob Burrow.
The terrible growing season has put the crop about two weeks late, and supplies are thinner than usual for this time of year.
But trade is beginning to pick up as harvest spreads from Cornwall up into Wales and further north.
“Prices are stable to slightly easier as supplies begin to come forward from the farm,” says Mr Burrow.
Graded samples in Cornwall are fetching 200-250/t, and bagged produce in Pembroke is making 140-160/t.
Tesco has been in the market for some weeks.
Despite the late harvest, demand from the consumer is strong, says Roy Maynard, Tescos senior buying manager for vegetables.
“In the last six weeks we have sold more early potatoes than ever before.
“Spuds from Cornwall have been sold in stores all across the South and up to the midlands. As supplies dry up, we are moving to Welsh produce to fill the shelves.”
The late harvest has meant that more harvest 2000 maincrop has been used, with demand holding until the hot weather arrived.
“Customers changed their diet and opted for salad and new potatoes, with bakers holding up well for barbecue use,” says Mr Maynard.
Bakers are also in demand for the catering sector, leaving wholesale trade in earlies on the slow side.
Tesco claims that its customers demand good-quality British produce. The supermarket has therefore dropped all imports apart from some Jersey shipments.
Mark Rowe, a potato farmer near Helston, Cornwall backs this up. ”
Tesco has been very supportive, stocking good volumes of British potatoes since April”. He adds that, although yields are down, quality has been excellent this season.
The BPC says imports of new potatoes are 12.5% down on last year, with 161,000t imported between 1 August, 2000 and 29 June.
Mr Burrow is happy with the approach multiples are taking.
“We work closely with supermarkets to promote British potatoes. The most recent campaign – Kids Go Free – is already proving a success.”