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Expert Eye: Simon Leaver, CEO at Fylde Fresh & Fabulous

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Triple F Chips

Prepped chips are garnering more attention as the price of bagged potatoes keeps rising

We’ve never had as many inquiries about our prepped chips as we are getting at the moment. It’s natural that in a rising market, shops start to look for alternatives that are better value or, at the very least, make sure that their current offer is fair. 

While the price of bagged potatoes is very volatile at the moment, our prepped chips are a lot more stable as we try to mitigate those risks by a combination of growing potatoes ourselves and contracting with growers to a certain proportion of the volume that we expect in the year. So whereas a 25kg bag of potatoes is selling at anywhere between £18 and £23 at the moment, a 10kg bag of our chips from our online outlet is around £13 (price correct at time of writing).

One of the biggest positive factors for our product is the certainty in that when you buy 10kg of prepped chips, you know exactly how many portions you can sell out of it. Whereas when you buy a bag of potatoes, you don’t actually know how many portions you will get. And, of course, prepped chips save a lot of time, effort, water and electricity so they can be a really good alternative to a bag of spuds. 

Not about greed

One thing I really would like to get across is that the current situation with prices is absolutely not about farmers being greedy. For the last three years, farmers have been selling potatoes at close to, or indeed less than, the cost of production because since the pandemic hit in 2020, the market for chipping potatoes has been broken. There was a huge surplus for a number of seasons which resulted in a falling market and I certainly didn’t hear of any chip shops ringing up farmers and saying, ‘I want to pay you more money because what I’m paying is too low’.  

Now we’re in a position where the planted area is down and we had a really hot, dry summer last year, which has impacted yields, causing a scarcity for the next five weeks or so until the earlies come in. 

What happens in a scarcity is the price gets bid up by buyers wanting to secure volume. Because such a high proportion of the crop overall in the country is contracted, when buyers’ contracts are short they go into the free buy market, which many fish and chip shops buy from, creating an even greater deficit and making the situation even more volatile. It’s a real challenge and we’ve probably got another two to three months of this until the market stabilises around the middle of August. 

The reason I say August is that as well as keeping an eye on the weather – temperatures over 25°C cause potatoes to stop growing – the other problem we might have is that to overcome this gap of stored crop the market will be desperate for new potatoes and farmers may want to dig as soon as they can. It’s what we call “pinching the yield”. Those crops won’t be dug at their potential yields and there were several weeks where planting stopped for poor weather, which means there could be a concern as to what’s going to follow on behind, say from the middle of July. How long will this season’s crop need to last for, and will there be a gap in supply after the first earlies are dug?  We just don’t know yet.

Whatever happens, there needs to be a realisation, not just in the chipping sector but in foodservice, food manufacturing and retail, that farmers need to see a fair return on their crops otherwise they just won’t grow them. 

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