Market intelligence is the lifeblood of effective decision making. The ability to understand availability, market demands and trends. For the UK potato industry it is the national planted area, its yield, consumption levels, and an overall picture of the national potato stock position.
This national stock figure is the most contentious. Perceived stock figures drive markets, and consequently confidence. We only have one opportunity a year in our climate to react. In other markets, such as South Africa, with climates more conducive to year round growing, there is the flexibility to meet changing demand across the year.
For any agency involved in Market Intelligence gathering and sharing, prioritising the budget is a challenge. Levy payers all with their own individual take on how funds should be allocated. There’s a balance to be had on deciding how much detail to go into, and what to publish also. In today’s social media centric world, there’s an expectation that information sharing should be quick.
Subscribers to Market Intelligence bulletins from Potatoes South Africa, are able to get daily market price updates by the middle of the afternoon on the same day. Much of the crop is sold through the wholesale market system, data collection is quick and completed within a few hours. Limited choice of varieties, defined quality grades and local price recording, allow for a quick turnaround.
Getting sufficient growers and others in the supply chain prepared to take the time and effort to help formulate some meaningful information is difficult. The world over, much of the data required is still collected verbally and through submissions from willing growers and industry. Increasingly there are moves to take this online, submissions through portals.
Technology is being employed by the Belgians for their ‘Watch it grow’ programme, making use of satellite imagery to measure national yield potential. A great opportunity to put together a marketing strategy at the beginning of the season, reflective of national stock availability. This they have used to great effect in their aggressive export policy.
Across Europe data tends to be collected and shared by a single industry-levy funded organisations, much like AHDB Potatoes. Contrast this with North America where there is a multi-agency approach. Growers and industry can subscribe to a plethora of levy funded bodies, all with their own agenda, but only open to those that choose to subscribe.
Representatives from all the local boards of the US potato growing states and Canada meet monthly as the United Potato Growers of America (UPGA). Here availability is matched against forecasted demand for the remainder of the season, the variance dictating what approach to take going forward. This association primarily looks at stocks, sales and grower returns, with other organisations representing different sectors of the industry having more consumer focussed roles. From the outside this multi-agency approach seems contradictory and complex, and only open to those willing to pay.
As our industry adapts, so does our Market Intelligence function need to. Just because the industry is moving towards a more contracted model does not mean to say market price is less important. There are still the variables of quality, yield and type in an already very complex and price sensitive market.
Timing is everything. If we are able to understand more accurately at harvest how much crop we were likely to have, couldn’t this be turned into an opportunity for the greater industry good? Follow this up with monthly stock figures, broken down by sector, and published within a week or two of their submission and there is the opportunity to be more proactive. Promote in times of surplus, and encourage consumption. Something like the American model - A monthly figure published in a time frame that it meaningful and detailed enough to be of use in effective decision making. We don’t need to delve into the detail and scrutiny that the US do, that’s down to individuals.
A single agency approach does provide a more co-ordinated, and importantly consumer focussed approach. With an increasingly consolidating industry maybe some support from other potato sector representative bodies?