If Spain has a shortage of one horticultural product in particular, this has to be the potato. The country imports over the significant figure of 800,000 tonnes
According to data provided by Europatat, in 2020, Spain imported 815,763 tonnes of potatoes compared to the 839,270 in 2019, a figure which, although it is huge, could indicate the start of a change in trend moving towards Spanish production. If this were the case, this figure should be consolidated over the next few campaigns.
France is the main supplier of washed potatoes; in 2020 it passed the barrier of 600,000 tonnes, specifically reaching 636,230. However, although Spanish imports as a whole have dropped by 3%, France has increased them by 6%, as a result of the significant demand by Spanish operators during the lockdown and following months. At this time, there were days when their plants were active 24 hours a day to be able to supply a population which, confined to their homes, were buying more potatoes than ever before. The average Spanish consumption per month, according to data from Fepex, is around 70,000 tonnes. In March, 2020, the figure rose by over 25%, going until 105,000 tonnes.
For the Spanish market, France is the best producer and supplier of washed potatoes, the ones demanded by large retailers. From 2014 to 2020, the French increased their sales to the Spanish market by 200,000.
Other important potato suppliers to the Spanish market are the Netherlands and Belgium, which, in general, are suppliers of large formats for industrial processing. Both countries have recorded a drop in their volumes. Belgium sold 26% less and the reduction in Dutch potatoes was even greater, 30% less than in 2019, when Spain purchased 65,584 tonnes. All of this must be framed in a lockdown setting where the Horeca and catering channels, large consumers of this tuber, remained closed. Potatoes purchased from the United Kingdom also dropped by 12%.
It should be emphasised that the entry of Moroccan new potatoes dropped by 78% last year, going from 25,582 tonnes to just 5,700, this was probably due to the effect of the pandemic and the closing of the Moroccan borders, as the new potato harvest coincides with the months of March and April. Contrary to this, another new potato supplier, Israel, increased its sales by 101% and moved from selling 6,844 tonnes in 2019 to 13,822 in 2020.
In Spain, potatoes speak French
One of today’s most common statements made by operators is that of their commitment to nationally-grown potatoes and, in many cases, regionally-grown produce. However, the figures show a sector that is clearly dependent on foreign imports.
COVID has shown the importance along with the need to have our own nationally-grown productions, and local produce continues to gain followers; but “we must study to what extent it could be just a fashion or passing phase, all of which in spite of the growing concern by consumers about the territory, the environment and CO2 emissions in transport,” sources from the sector comment.
A devastating fact, which does not back this statement up is, without any doubt, the yearly reduction of the crop surface area. The latest figures from MAPA show a 5.7% drop compared to the previous year.
All of this added to the fact that in Spain the investments that are being made in conservation capacity, compared to those made by neighbouring countries, are isolated and always by the same operators, who, it must be said, have also been pioneers in cutting-edge technology.
The question is: what does this increasingly relevant statement respond to? “It responds to the pressure by the large retailers who want to have national produce and be able to justify themselves. However, the real commitment is not really there because out of four references, only one, at the very most, is Spanish.”
It is impossible to find Spanish potatoes throughout the year on supermarket shelves and it only happens, in very few instances, with the frying variety, Agria, but this example does not represent more than 1% of the sales on the market.
“In the end, the priority on the supermarket shelves is aesthetic quality. If there are any problems with the local produce, it is immediately rejected and foreign produce is preferred,” a prominent supplier from a large retailer explains.
A proven fact is that the growing trend for new potatoes is clawing weeks from the conservation potatoes on the supermarket shelves. Currently, any supermarket worth its salt has at least one new potato reference in April and even in May,” according to an important retail supplier.