Keogh’s: Potato sales surge as consumers seek healthy choice

A surge in consumer demand for healthy home-cooked foods has seen a “phenomenal” uplift in fresh potato sales – with increases as high as 70% with certain customers, according to Tom Keogh, managing director of well-known potato and crisp company Keogh’s.

However, following a challenging winter and consequently late planting of new season potatoes, extra care will be needed to ensure – on a bigger picture – that supplies of old-season potatoes last as long as possible.

Covid-19 impact

Speaking to AgriLand, Keogh outlined the impact that Covid-19, and the subsequent measures to limit the coronavirus, have had on his company and the broader industry.

“From the farming side of things, it’s kind of business as usual,” he said, highlighting the difficulties suppliers have been having with the potato crop this year.

About 20% of the crop has overwintered in the ground. Now the silver lining in the cloud is that the weather is actually very good at the minute, which means we’re actually harvesting.

“We’ve been harvesting the last three days and we intend to harvest right through the weekend, weather permitting.”

Keogh described the crop as “in relatively good condition”, adding that this is a big plus from a supply point of view.

New season

Turning to the bigger picture, the founder of Keogh’s Crisps highlighted that the winter was both bad and late, meaning there is “almost zero” new season spuds planted in the country.

“This means that the arrival of new season potatoes is going to be delayed, which means that we need to ensure that old season potatoes last as long as possible.

From a sales point of view, he said: “The uplift we’ve seen in fresh potato sales in the last three weeks is phenomenal.”

Keogh said, while there had been something of a panic buy, he believes people are eating more vegetables in general.

They’re thinking about their health, their immune systems, and they’re eating a lot healthier than they normally would – and that’s brought a lot of people back into the potato category. We’ve seen increases as high as 70% with certain customers.

He added, however, that this shift in demand will “put a huge amount of pressure” on supply chains nationally.

However, he noted that it is too early to make a call on it yet:

“Hopefully, as the panic kind of subsides, a bit of normality will come back into the market. But we’re definitely seeing a big shift into potatoes, just from a healthier eating point of view, it’s driving increased demand.

It’s good for the category but we just need to be very, very careful that we manage the supplies to get us through to what will be a late arrival of the new season.

Turning to the snack-food side of the business, Keogh noted that there has also been a spike in demand here too, though on a later time-scale. However, the food service end of things has essentially disappeared.

Snacks and food service

“On the snack food side of the business, it was a relatively late surge because obviously snacks would not be considered as an essential item.

“There was such a huge pull on supply chain distribution to get food onto the shelves of the retailers over the last three weeks, that there was probably about a five-day delay in actually pulling snack foods back onto the shelves in any big way – but we have seen a huge increase.

Once it caught up, it caught up in a big way. We’re seeing over 100% of an increase in sales in some lines.

However, he highlighted that this was being balanced by the disappearance of food-service trade:

“Counter to that, the whole food service side of the business has literally disappeared overnight.

“So all the cafes, all the restaurants, a lot of the small delis that sell our crisps – that trade ceased, literally at the drop of a hat. We’ve seen that decimated; we’ve lost all of that.

“But we’re hoping that the increase in multiple retail – the Tescos, the Musgraves, the Dunnes Stores – we’re hoping that the volume in them will compensate for the loss of volume in food service,” Keogh said.