Approximately 40,000t of chipping potatoes are imported from the UK annually for specific use within the Irish fresh chip sector.
Up to now, traditional ‘chippers’ in Ireland have actively sought out these potato supplies because of their consistent quality.
However, Bord Bia believes that the opportunity now exists for Irish potato growers to get a slice of this action.
Making this work will require the selection of specific varieties – Markies being a case in point – in tandem with the implementation of bespoke crop husbandry techniques.
Inherent within all of this is the requirement for structured systems to be put in place, which will fully recognise the investment made by Irish farmers to grow chipping potatoes.
Future for chipping potatoes
Underpinning Bord Bia expectations with regard to this import substitution-related opportunity is the result of a recent consumer survey, carried out independently by Coyne Research.
This work has identified a number of very significant trends. First off, circa one in four Irish adults goes to a traditional ‘chipper’ on a weekly basis. Males and millennials (23 to 38 year olds) buy chips most often.
The perceived quality of a chip hinges on its texture, appearance and the reputation of the chipper.
This latter point is backed up by the confirmation by chip shop owners that the reputation of their entire business hinges on the quality of the chips they produce.
Significantly, most people are of the view that the chips they buy are made from Irish-grown potatoes. Moreover, they are surprised to learn that, for the most part, these potatoes come from the UK.
Support for home-grown potatoes
Other trends identified through the survey include the support, at consumer level, for chippers to use more Irish-grown potatoes. Some would even consider paying a premium price for chips made with Irish potatoes.
Irish chip shop owners, represented at this week’s National Potato Conference by Romayo Group’s Dario Macari, expressed their willingness to work more closely with Irish potato growers.
The take-home message coming out of the conference was that there is now an opportunity for Irish growers to compete against imports with home-grown potatoes, produced specifically for the chipping market.
Brexit represents an opportunity for Irish growers to compete with these UK imports as supply lines are at risk and tariffs are imposed.
The size of the prize on offer is €20 million per annum. However, this will not be an easy fix. Separate Bord Bia research has confirmed that UK exporters specifically select high quality potatoes when it comes to them supplying the Irish chip market.