Lockdown leads to resurgence in potato consumption across NI

The latest Kantar figures confirm that Northern Ireland’s potato packing sector sales have grown by 3.9% over the past year.

All the sector’s key parameters, including frequency of purchase and volumes purchased per shop, are all up with one very obvious exception.

Wilson’s Country managing director Lewis Cunningham explained: “The average price of potatoes in the shops has fallen over the past 12 months. The Kantar survey confirms an average price of 82p/kg for the 52-week period ending June 30, 2020.

“This represents a 4.2% reduction on the previous 12 months.”

Potato sales in Northern Ireland for the past year totalled £50.8 million, representing a 3.9% increase on the previous 12 months. Sales volumes increased by 8.5% during the same period, exceeding 60,000t.

Cunningham added: “Individual purchase volumes increased by 6.4% over the past year totalling 85.4kg.

Potatoes now enjoy a 97.6% retail penetration in Northern Ireland. That’s up 1.4% on 2019 levels.

“All of these trends point to a very positive story for the local potato sector.

“They also confirm the growing consumption of potatoes in homes. Significantly, these trends became apparent before the introduction of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“We saw the expected, seasonal boost in potato consumption at Christmas time 2019. However, this momentum was maintained into the New Year.

“There’s also little doubt that the lockdown measures have encouraged more people to cook at home more frequently, across the board.”

The Wilson’s Country representative pointed to the significant investment made by local packers over recent years in making fresh potatoes a more convenient and flexible cooking option.

“Smaller pack sizes mean less waste in homes. We are also seeing a growing demand for peeled, chilled potatoes and fresh chips,” he said. “In our own case branded retail sales have increased by 19.6% year-on-year.”

Impact of hospitality sector closure

But it’s not all good news for the potato industry.

“The lockdown measures almost wiped out potato sales into the service and catering sectors. And it’s doubtful if we will see demand from these industries fully recover any time soon,” Cunningham explained.

The eat-out to help-out scheme, which launched a few days ago, has already resulted in an increase in orders to us and is a really welcome development.

“Potato sales have fared well over the past 12 months. It is to be hoped that the trend towards more people cooking more often at home will be maintained.

“However, potato packers are taking nothing for granted. There is an onus on companies to continue investing in new ways of making fresh potatoes more attractive to consumers across the board.”