potsIt seems that Brits can’t resist the simple spud with just 3% of adults not eating fresh potatoes. Today, just 8% of us see potatoes as boring and 6% as fattening. The majority (60%) say potatoes are tasty, and (65%) find them nutritious.

Encouragingly for the industry, more than one in four (27%) eat potatoes more often than a year ago, while only 9% have cut back on their potato habit.

Whether on the back of the economic downturn, and the shift towards good value and comfort foods, or benefiting from the underlying trend towards healthy eating, it seems the humble spud is enjoying high popularity.

However, the long-term trend for potatoes is less encouraging. From nearly three pounds (1.3 kg) in the mid-1980s, the average weekly consumption per person has fallen by 40% to just 1.7 pounds (780 grams) in 2007. Changing tastes have seen potatoes come under competition from pasta, rice and noodles, as well as the occasional move away from carbohydrates.

While long-term average weekly consumption has declined, short term sales growth has been far more positive. Between 2004 and 2009, sales of potatoes grew over 20% to reach £1.712 billion in 2009. Fresh potatoes make up two thirds of the market by value (and over three quarters by volume due to lower prices per kilo), but it is chilled potatoes and frozen chips which are driving growth. Fresh potatoes, are also performing well.

Frozen vegetables, including frozen chips and other potato products, have benefited from companies like Birds Eye improving the sector’s image as well as being perceived as good value for money during the credit crunch. While the canned food sector generally is seeing growth – and benefits from strong brands such as Napolina – this has not helped canned potatoes.

Celebrity chefs have had a massive positive impact on the potato market over the last couple of years. For example, the market has seen an influx of roast potatoes cooked in goose fat after Nigella Lawson recommended goose fat as the way to get perfect Christmas roast potatoes. Delia Smith’s How To Cheat At Cooking television series and cookbook has encouraged people to save time by cooking nearly from scratch using ‘cheats’ such as frozen prepared potato.

Meanwhile Albert Bartlett’s Rooster potatoes are being advertised using Desperate Housewives star Marcia Cross to bring some glamour to the market.

In terms of distribution, grocery multiples dominate for sales of potatoes (87%) offering consumers convenience and choice. Potatoes suffer from rather dull, confusing fixtures in-store with little signposting to help consumers navigate their way round the choice of potatoes for different meal occasions.

Consumers remain loyal to box schemes and farmers’ markets and shops, with sales increasing 24% in the last 3 years alone.

As the economy recovers, consumers will trade back up to premium products, creating opportunities for organic products and premium named varieties. Convenience and health will continue to be the driving forces behind the market, with future NPD likely to feature functional benefits. Sales of spuds are set to top the £2 billion by 2013, amounting to value growth of around 5% year on year.

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