The Netherlands and Belgium have always been true potato countries. The potato remains as popular as ever. Volumes are, however, under pressure. Annually, in the Netherlands, there is talk of a decline in volume of about five percent. The home use of potatoes is also falling in Belgium. How do companies react?
Joeri Wulff Commercial Manager at Landjuweel
According to Joeri Wulff, Commercial Manager at Landjuweel, there are many forces at work: “The decline in volumes in the potato sector is inevitable. For a long time, potatoes were something that was eaten to keep hunger at bay. It was on many families' daily menus. This group, especially older consumers, who regularly buy potatoes, is slowly disappearing. Younger people want more variety and eat less of the traditional ‘potatoes, meat, and vegetables’ meals. They more often choose convenience (ready-to-eat) and experience (luxury) meals. In the supermarket, buyers increasingly decide on the spot what they will eat that evening. They then make impulse purchases.”
Quick-cooking potatoes that are ready in 12 minutes
The changes will be gradual. Landjuweel expects bulk packaging to still be the main focus in the years to come. But, these volumes are slowly being replaced by units. Landjuweel sees luxury convenience products and small packaging, in particular, growing. The future belongs to fresh baby potatoes, locally-grown unusual (seasonal) varieties, and easy one-pan bags, according to Landjuweel. Joeri says, “Potatoes that look nice, with good skin color and no blemishes, are preferred. These can be prepared and eaten, unpeeled. This saves time, and can, therefore, offer convenience. For example, we have small packs with fast-cooking potatoes which are ready in twelve minutes and do not have to be peeled. We also have small packs of mashing and french fry potatoes of 4 to 6 portions, which include a recipe.”
For retailer PLUS, package sustainability is critical, so they, in collaboration with Landjuweel, developed a material that contains 50% sugar cane.
Retail renewal processes
Landjuweel works closely with retailers to adapt potato shelves to meet this changing consumer demand. Last year, at the Dutch supermarket chain, PLUS, a whole new potato section was introduced where the assortment, as well as forms of packaging, were examined. Waxy and floury potatoes remain the top sellers within the range as a whole, but aside from these, themes - taste, origin, uses, inspiration, and sustainability - also enjoy attention. A similar renewal process has also since been successfully completed at another Dutch supermarket chain, Deen. “We are just at the start of all the changes in the sector,” says Joeri. “There will be more variety on the shelves, which is something new for potatoes. We follow the trends closely here at Landjuweel and we respond quickly to them.”
Packaging for mashed potatoes in 1,5kg packs of 4 to 6 portions, focuses on how to use the potatoes.
This changing consumption pattern affects the entire chain. “The modern consumer wants custom-made products. Retailers cannot make this transition alone; all the links in the chain most work closely together to meet the future demand. Attractive packaging containing top quality potatoes entices people to buy the product. We have sufficient contact with growers to meet the various demands. But we also have the know-how to support retailers in adjusting their stores and packaging.”
Premium packaging for excellent potatoes
Sustainability is also a continuing trend. Consumers are critical of, for example, the type of packaging being used. According to Joeri, Dutch supermarkets will never sell loose potatoes. “When you put unpackaged potatoes on your shelves, you shorten their shelf life from 14 to two days. Offering potatoes, unpackaged, is, therefore, only possible where there are very high turnover rates or are sold in a specialist greengrocer,” he explains. Packaging adds a great amount of value.
Landjuweel is looking for environmentally-friendly alternatives that fit in with the natural cycle. They see a future in, especially, completely recyclable packaging, produced from recycled materials. “These materials have hardly any impact on the environment and befit a complete, closed, sustainable cycle. We are not that far yet but we are getting there! For example, PLUS’ bulk potato packaging is already recyclable. These bags are made from 50% sugar cane which saves a minimum of 7.000kg of plastic a year,” explains Joeri.
Sweet potato packaging
At the other end of the chain, efforts are also being made regarding increasing potatoes’ sustainability. To keep supplying Dutch retailers, Dutch growers have now been Planet Proof certified. Joeri: “We get most of our potatoes from these Dutch farmers. Out of season, we import potatoes and we see an increasing number of overseas growers making their cultivation more sustainable.”
The potato supply is diversifying and becoming more sustainable, but to make a success of this transition, the entire chain must make the effort. A better investment is expected for these extra costs. According to the FSIN, consumers are more than willing to pay for luxury goods and convenience.
They estimate that by 2025, the food, beverages, and tobacco market will have grown, in total, to at least €75 billion. This is compared to the roughly €61 billion that was spent in 2018. The potato will keep playing an essential role in the Dutch diet. “In the coming years, the changing consumer offers opportunities to respond to this change from within the consumer sector. This is something Landjuweel is fully involved in”, concludes Joeri.