Smaller pack sizes and new packaging formats that allow potatoes to be microwaved for convenience, are among the industry trends being embraced by K&K Produce, which is based in Fingal, Co. Dublin.
Established by Tommy and Deirdre Kennedy in 1984, K&K Produce is a family affair, with their three children, Thomas, Michael and Lisa, all involved in the business.
K&K Produce was one of the first suppliers to deliver potatoes into Centra’s chill distribution in the 1990s. The company now employs approximately 80 people and supplies Centra and SuperValu with all their own brand potatoes.
K&K grow 300ac of potatoes and also work with growers from counties Wexford to Donegal to meet customer demands. They grow some other vegetables, with increased sowings of cauliflower and broccoli at present to mitigate against the impact of Brexit.
Total sales of potatoes into Centra are 2,500t, with approximately 2,000t Irish grown potatoes. The most popular potato sold in Centra is the rooster, accounting for nearly 70% of sales.
With people eating more varied diets over the last 10 years, there has been a move towards purchasing smaller pack sizes in a 1kg to 2kg range, Tommy said. “People can often forget the high nutritional value of potatoes, with potassium and fibre.
“They are one of the most nutritious vegetables you can get and price wise, they are very competitive,” he said.
“There has been a surge in veganism and vegetarianism over the last five years, which has helped maintain sales in potatoes.
“They can be used in a range of dishes, from boxty and omelettes for breakfast, to traditional recipes such as shepherd’s pie and beef stew, and international dishes such as massaman curry.”
Originally, potatoes were supplied to supermarkets unwashed and largely in bigger bag formats, such as the 5kg and 10kg bag range. More varieties were available to consumers, such as records, golden wonders and kerr’s pink.
Although these varieties are still available, they are not seen as frequently on supermarket shelves, Tommy said.
Baby potatoes and roosters have become the most popular products for customers, and the Kennedys currently supply Centra with their ‘Inspired by baby potato’ and ‘Inspired by rooster’ ranges.
Embracing new trends
As people became more time sensitive and as eating habits changed, K&K innovated by introducing new packaging formats which allow for potatoes to be microwaved.
The pandemic saw the food service side of K&K practically close overnight and employees were required to rotate between day and night shifts to maintain social distancing. A positive aspect was that the increase in home cooking boosted retail sales over the last 12 months.
“We expect to see that trend level off as restaurants re-open,” said Tommy.
In Q3, 2021, the Kennedys hope to launch new, fully recyclable packing in the Centra ‘Inspired by rooster’ range. When launched, it will remove over 60,000 units of non-recyclable packaging from their supply chain and help K&K meet its sustainable goals over the next 12 months.
“Over the next few years, we hope to develop some of our added value range. We have developed a range of ready meals and side dishes over the last four years.
“We hope to expand in this section to help cater for time sensitive customers and the changing needs of shoppers,” Tommy added.
Tommy said another challenge they face is trying to eliminate waste which can be up to 20%.
“We are trying different growing and storage techniques in a bid to deal with that issue.”
From a potato growing perspective, last year and this year were quite good weatherwise, Tommy said.
“In previous years, such as during snow, the skin finish was affected. Lack of rainfall can also affect growth so it’s a question of trying to get the right balance between warm weather and rainfall,” he concluded.