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Netherlands: Things not always easy in the chilled potato industry

In between ordinary ware potatoes and the ready-to-eat potato there is another segment: that of the chilled potato slices. The relatively smaller companies inhabiting this sector don’t always have it easy. They have to adhere to the same stern regulations as their bigger brothers.

The segment has, for some reason or another, lost a lot of ground supplying to markets like hospitals and retirement homes, but gained a little in the hospitality section; mainly cafeterias seem to take to the chilled slices.

To cope with these changes however, many suppliers, like for instance Bex in Kessel, Holland, have branched out. Owner Arno Bex thinks he knows why the market is so much smaller these days. “The so-called institutional markets, that include hospitals and so on, have made changes in the way they prepare dinner. They don’t cook every afternoon anymore, but two or three times a week, putting the meals in cold storage. That requires a different type of potato, not the chilled ones.” Bex has moved along with the currents, from chilled slices to fresh fries, to accommodate the cafeterias.

Verkooijen in Dongen has noticed the same trend. The firm has had to diversify to meet varying demands, but the shift from chilled to steamed or processed potatoes didn’t go by unnoticed. “These market preferences change all the time,” says Jan Verkooijen. “Yesterday it was pre-baked, now it’s pre-sliced. Tomorrow it’s something else. Nowadays retailers want to stand out, they request fries in all shapes and sizes.”

Nefs Potatoes in Halsteren has decided to solely supply wholesalers and cafeterias. The reason is the same: a dwindling institutional market. Freshly sliced fries are in high demand right now, and he produces accordingly. Director Kees Nefs says changes in the sector were also the result of HACCP regulations, which made it hard for small businesses to meet the standard. “Prices went up, clients walked away. So that market was gone. There has been a definite shift to cafeterias, restaurants and so on. And of course, the magic word now is fresh.”

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