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A double front open

Spanish potatoes, as with the rest of fruit and vegetable categories, are experiencing moments of unease, both regarding production and sales.

On the one hand, high energy costs and the resulting rise in input prices are causing serious concern for producers, and, on the other hand, the packaging companies are facing up to the high demands made by the distribution. Energy costs and the rise in price of materials are significantly affecting both sides of the chain.

In view of the present difficulties, everything is pointing towards the fact that potato sowing in the main production region, Castilla-Leon, will be between 10% and 15% lower than in the previous year. And this is the case in spite of the last fortnight’s rainfall, which has alleviated the farmers’ situation somewhat, as they expected to have to use more energy to pump well water.

Furthermore, the new reality of potatoes on the supermarket shelves, as a product that is almost perfect, is causing discards, and therefore food waste, to reach levels never seen before.

According to Alfonso Sáenz de Cámara, “this situation has turned into a factor that is straining relations with the producers, but we have no other option than to meet the demands. We are at the centre of the chain, in between producers and supermarkets. When a consumer complains, the supplier’s world is rocked to its foundations. It is difficult to pass these changes on to the farmers. I think that this should have happened more gradually and slowly in order to not put a strain on the chain.”

And all this is happening at a particularly delicate time for companies, which in addition to having to face up to wage rises are also suffering from an increase in prices of many inputs and of electricity.

“We are in a situation that is complicated to manage and even to explain. The entry of investment funds in our sector will also mean an important change for future years,” Sáenz de Cámara explains.

A change in trend: towards industry

In Europe, potato requirements over the next few years will grow exponentially. A great deal of money is being invested in freezer processing industries in northern France and Holland.

The capacity of some of them is such that they will need around 500,000 tonnes. “If this is compared with the Spanish production, which reaches around 2 million, you can get an idea of the size. It is going to mean a shift in the sector, as has already happened in France.”

It is estimated that to cover this new demand between 40 and 50,000 hectares of potatoes will be required, which can be translated into another 1.5 million tonnes. “If farmers have options, they will choose the ones that are most profitable, and this movement is beginning to cause concern.”

Regarding the trends that could set the path for packaging companies, at Udapa they believe that the new Container Law that must come into effect by the middle of this year, and which in France is already up and running, “in principle, as we have seen in France, it doesn’t seem to convey many important changes, but in any event, we must be ready to adapt.”

The law could bring problems, however, regarding microwaveable potatoes, which although still make up a small volume compared to the category as a whole, have become a reference for success on the Spanish market. “According to the new legislation, this material may not be used to package 400 grammes of product; the law states that any fresh produce weighing less than one and a half kilos cannot be packaged in plastic.”

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