The recent confirmation that Ireland will host the 2021 World Potato Congress is good news for a sector that has had no end of problems and challenges to deal with over the past number of years.
Poor weather, increasing production costs and not-so-exciting retail prices have all combined to put extreme pressure on producer margins.
But by far the biggest challenge confronting the industry is the continuing poor image which potatoes ‘enjoy’ in the minds of many consumers.
The potato remains one of the most natural foods that we can eat. If consumed with its jacket on it represents one of the most valuable sources of nutritional fibre. Potatoes also contain more Vitamin C than oranges.
By definition, the potato is a vegetable. Yet, nutritionists continue to regard ‘spuds’ as a source of starch only. In other words, potatoes are not included in the list of fruit and vegetables that we are expected to consume on a daily basis as part of a balanced diet.
By way of contrast, it’s worth considering developments that have taken place within the dairy sector over the past number of years. Thirty years ago, butter was considered to be one of the worst possible foods that we could include in our diet. It was full of fat and cholesterol.
However, revisionist thinking (brought to bear over the past two years) has changed all of that.
Such was the consumer response to these developments that demand for butter spiked 18 months ago, leading to the uplift in milk prices enjoyed by every local dairy farmer throughout 2017.
Meanwhile, potatoes continue to suffer from an image that does this unique food source no favours at all.
Even if considered as a carbohydrate source only, they have something which the likes of rice and pasta will never have...taste!
To say that potatoes need an image makeover is an understatement of some magnitude. The good news is that a lot of the ground work on this issue has already been done. Many local packers have done a lot to make fresh potatoes more versatile, when it comes to preparing them for the table.
The ‘Mighty Spud’ initiative has helped to make inroads with local consumers. But, in truth, real money must be spent in educating shoppers about the true value of potatoes in our diet.