A big factor influencing potato demand in the past decade or two has been low-carb diets that eschewed potatoes. But those negative views are changing, according to Blair Richardson, president of Potatoes USA.
“The research we’ve been conducting in the last couple of years (shows) that consumer perception of the potato is actually improving quite a bit.” Richardson points to recent studies illustrating the nutritional value of potatoes as a big reason why.
“The major change that we’ve made at Potatoes USA in the last year or two is we have switched from a defensive perspective to an offensive perspective,” Richardson says.
“We’re not just saying it’s OK to eat potatoes; we’re using the research that the Alliance for Potato Research & Education group and that we ourselves have put together… to say you should eat potatoes and not only that, you should eat more potatoes.”
Another test for U.S. producers has been fierce competition in the global french fry market, which has grown considerably in recent years. French fry exports still account for a big part of the U.S. industry, but rivals from northwest Europe have eroded the market share for American producers, says Bruce Huffaker, publisher of North American Potato Market News.
“The global demand for french fries is growing very rapidly, and the Europeans are grabbing the lion’s share of the extra business.”
Huffaker says that as a result of aggressive pricing, currency issues and some transportation advantages, producers in northwest Europe — and particularly in Belgium — have captured about 80 per cent of the growth in the global french fry market over the past 10 years.
Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, notes U.S. french fry exports have started to pick up in the last year or so, and that’s led to line expansion at a number of American processing plants, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.