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Resistant organic potatoes deserve a chance

Work in the development of resistant organic potatoes has been underway for many years and a range of robust organic varieties has already been developed. Some have already been available for years, such as the Bionica (Niek's White) and Sarpo Mira. The latest varieties are the Carolus, Connect and Vitabella. And what of the Alouette? Now the question is how to bring these potatoes to the consumers' plate. Leen Janmaat, Senior Advisor at Louis Bolk Institute, believes that the cooperation of wholesalers and retailers is necessary to launch these new varieties into the market. Besides Leen, we also hear what Rudi Gerding, a natural food retailer, has to say. He states he would be willing to offer only resistant varieties at his store.

The resistant potatoes on the shelf at De Groene Winkel in Zeist, The Netherlands.

The Louis Bolk Institute, together with 22 other entities, is active in the EU project CO-FREE. In the framework of this project, the Louis Bolk Institute develops strategies to facilitate the commercial launch of new resistant varieties. Leen: "Our contribution to the project revolves around the marketing side, around the introduction of new varieties into the retail environment. How do new resistant varieties enter the chain? In this case, it is very true that if a product's unknown, it is unloved, so what can we do to bring these resistant potato varieties into the picture? We have already succeeded in this sense with several varieties. For example, we have the Bionica; a white-fleshed potato developed by organic grower Niek Vos. After its launch, about two years ago, many people were surprised about the potato's white colour; we therefore decided to use this feature as part of the promotion and managed to boost its market value by calling it Niek's White. This breed has now won a place on the shelves of various health food stores. We also wondered whether another newcomer, the Carolus, had a chance to reach the supermarket shelves. This certainly proved to be the case, since the Carolus is now part of the range at Udea and Albert Heijn."

Potato Week at the Green Store
On 12 January 2015, a number of new potato varieties were presented at the Green Store in Zeist. The store was the first in the Netherlands with five biological blight resistant varieties on the shelves, and potato breeders have currently even more varieties in the pipeline. To celebrate this, a special Potato Week was held. Customers were given the chance to taste and rate the potatoes, and were offered various recipes. It also gave organic potato growers and researchers who have worked on the development of these robust organic varieties a chance to present them at the store.

Rudi Gerding, of the Green Store, pointed out that current problems suffered by growers could be solved by switching to new varieties. "This applies both to the cultivation and the sales side, which is why a commitment from retailers is also needed. The varieties are there, so let us all make the switch. We must move together towards a robust system with robust varieties." He assures that there are strong, resistant varieties available which also taste really good. "The question now is how to bring consumers onboard. By taking part in this project, we want to show wholesalers that we, as a retailer, are in any case committed to improving the availability of disease-resistant organic potatoes."

He explains that during the Potato Week the full range of potatoes at the health food store on the 1e Hogeweg 18 was replaced by resistant varieties. "Only the Niek's White remained, which of course belongs amongst these resistant potatoes. With this we aimed to raise our customers' awareness." He said that it was important to convey a message. "Every day, we were giving our customers a chance to try two different varieties. Rutger Amons was present as representative of the Louis Bolk Institute at the store to provide information about the resistant varieties and the project. We also prepared a daily recipe with one of the potatoes." Rudi says that they wanted to see how these resistant varieties would be accepted at a commercial level. "Customers responded very positively, with not a hint of disappointment."

Customers must be well-advised
Rudi stressed that, in his opinion, organic and biodynamic cultivation must be in constant development. "The introduction of these resistant potatoes is a nice step in this direction. We already have resistant varieties and even more will come. We have tasted them all ourselves prior to the initiative, and some of them are really good. It is essential, however, for a project like this to be supported by the entire chain." The retailer is confident that this promotional week has had no impact on his revenue. "We wanted this to send a message; make it clear that we, at The Green Store in Zeist, are only too happy to make room on the shelves for these potatoes. And within the Netherlands alone, I think other stores could do likewise. As retailers, we in fact decide to a large extent what ends up on the plate of the consumer. After this week, we can conclude with confidence that with the range of products currently available we can certainly cover our customers' needs; however, we must also be able to give them good advice. It's all down to providing them with the necessary attention. Simply by making the investment and handing out folders you can already go very far. I'm sure that, from that week onwards, we could have easily continued offering organic resistant potato varieties exclusively."

Leen is pleased that other stores have also shown interest in organising similar promotional weeks. "Lazuur in Wageningen has already announced its wish to do the same as the Green Store. I see it as a good step for different stores to undertake this project."

Variety not always a determining factor
It is usually agreed that variety is not always a determining factor for the consumer. After all, most consumers buy their potatoes out of habit. Leen states that as long as the quality of the potato is good, the consumer is not really concerned about what variety it is. "Consumers often choose their potatoes based on the category to which they belong, such as waxy or floury. Packers are decisive in that respect. If a wholesaler chooses to fill the bags with Carolus potatoes, they will be just as successful." Rudi agrees with him. "For most consumers, what matters is not the variety, but how the potatoes can be cooked. I believe you can simply fill the 2 kilo bags with resistant varieties."

Author: Lenneke Schot

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