Almost 100% of the frozen chips used in Irish catering and fast food outlets are made from imported potato chips, according to Teagasc tillage advisor Shay Phelan.
He said that Irish potato growers are facing into an uncertain future. Carrying on the age-old practice of growing Rooster may sound the death knell for many producers, he said.
“The industry must develop alternative outlets for its produce and chipping could well play a role in this context.”
He said the fast food sector is estimated to generate an annual turnover in the region of €1.3 billion.
Supermac’s Procurement Manager Pat Lynch confirmed that the company sourced all its frozen chips from Belgium and the Netherlands.
“There is no chipping plant in Ireland,” he said.
“Up to 10 years ago, Ballymoney Foods in North Antrim was supplying the Irish market with frozen chips. And we did business with that farmer-owned comany prior to its closure. Today, we have no option but to source the chips that we need from Europe.
“Our specification cites the growing of a Bintje potato that is harvested, washed, chipped and frozen during the months of September and October. We have a requirement for 4,000t of chips annually.”
Lynch says believes that there is now an opportunity to develop a potato chipping plant in this country.
“We would be happy to support such a venture. Supermac’s will readily use chips produced from Irish grown Rooster, provided the potatoes are processed before the beginning of November. Once we get into the winter months, the high degree of free sugar levels within the tubers make the variety totally unusable as a chipping variety.
“On the down side, the high costs that would be incurred by any chipping operation that is established in this country would serve to make it non-price competitive. Electricity charges represent a case in point. In such circumstances, government grant assistance would be required.
“The envisaged scale of the plant is another factor that must be considered. To make the operation efficient, from a processing point of view, the business would have to export a high proportion of its output on to the UK market.
“Factors such as exchange rates would then play a key role in determining its financial viability.”