The UK has set a benchmark in the retail and supply chain dynamic, but the rest of the world is catching up. Consumer perceptions on value still rule; to quote one South African retailer: ‘The poor need a bargain, the rich want a bargain’.
Consumer focus is critical in all markets - it is very dependent on the demographics and the maturity of the national supply chain, subjectively measured by how quickly and to what extent the regional supply chain can adapt to the changing demands of its consumer base.
The UK has some of the most sophisticated consumers in the world. We are a nation of savvy shoppers - habits are continually evolving, but expectations of quality and value remain critical. We are shopping more often and wasting less. Potato consumption is under pressure, competing with other starch sources and low carbohydrate diets. Our consumers lead busy lives, they want fresh ideas and innovation – meal solutions.
For some the immediate need is quantity over quality. In the developed world consumption is still rising through population growth and an enthusiasm for Western diets.
Global consumer demands
Kenya is developing a supply chain to meet a very basic need for food and nutritional security. It is building an infrastructure for a hungry supply chain in comparative infancy. There are entrepreneurs building local potato chip and French fry factories, pre-empting the arrival of the fast food chains, but there is still an ever growing need for a sustainable supply of fresh potatoes to satisfy traditional family needs.
South Africa has similar demands, but the paradox being that there is a strongly emerging middle class, where poverty sits alongside wealth and consumer sophistication. The buying criteria for the poorest elements is cost alone. Potatoes compete with maize to be the daily carbohydrate of choice, the purchase decision based around whatever is cheapest on the day. This complex supply chain is concentrating its supply efforts on both the poor, to provide a basic carbohydrate, and on those with much greater spending power. In both these instances, the health, nutritional, and comparative production benefits of potatoes can play a major part in providing this.
Processed potato consumption dominates in North America, where the Russet range of potato varieties has dominated the supply chain for decades, but habits are slowly changing as consumers are becoming more discerning in their choice of meal preparation. Premium quality, coloured varieties, enhanced by positive health benefits, are gaining popularity.
The Northern European supply chain has quickly adapted to offer a convenient, consistent supply of processed potato products offering great value – right in tune with current consumption trends.
A redeeming feature of the UK potato industry is that the complexity we have created in our fresh market would be difficult to replicate with imports. The fresh retail sector in Northern Europe is far simpler, less complex and more forgiving. Consumer signposting for suggested usage is more co-ordinated and easier to follow.
‘GB only’ buying initiatives resonate with consumers who respect patriotism, integrity, quality and the reassurances of UK food safety standards. Virtues that cannot be taken for granted; any compromise or abuse and you risk losing the trust of consumers. In today’s world there are no hiding places. Social media gives ample opportunity for consumers to air their grievances. Overseas potato producers look at UK standards of provenance and quality for inspiration. Accreditation and due diligence demands are tightening the world over. However, for a significant element of UK potato consumers, price is still key.
Quality is critical more so than ever; we currently struggle to compete with costs of production from potential imports. There are fewer outlets for anything below par. New supply challenges will come into play – more reactive convenience shopping, increased eating outside the home, changing family structures, innovative convenience products, to name but a few. Future product improvements will be based on science and technology, varietal development that delivers improved health and nutrition benefits for all sectors of the industry. Utopia would be a variety that delivered beneficial agronomic traits, such as dual PCN resistance also.