The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has dealt a blow to a particularly Belgian market, as the country begins to see declining sales of the humble fries.
Around 1 million tons of potatoes – an estimated €200 million worth in better times – are currently stored in the barns across the country. These should be sold on and turned into potato products, but in current times that’s not guaranteed.
This drop in demand comes as factories opt to make less processed potatoes, as the market for products goes cold in the face of the new coronavirus (Covid-19).
“Our products no longer reach the customer. In the Netherlands, they will have a surplus of 1 million tonnes of potatoes. Our country won’t be far from there,” Romain Cools of Belgapom, the Belgian federation of potato processing companies told VRT.
According to de Tijd, exports account for 90% of the Belgian frozen French fries sales, hitting 2.7 million tons of frozen potato products last year. That’s currently not happening.
The compulsory closure of the majority of the catering industry, the postponement of major sporting events, and the expected end of festivals mean that key markets for selling fries have been cut off for the time being.
This, in turn, is leading to a drop in production, as companies fill freezer space to account for unsold fries, and stop producing the snack.
“Our fries production is partly at a standstill. We will continue to make the other potato specialities, but at a slower pace because our employees have to work at a safe distance from each other,” said Philippe Debruyne, manager of potato processing company Aviko.
The ultimate impact on the sector remains to be seen, but farmers and producers have said they have a fear of serious consequences due to the loss of income, and the knock-on effect on the whole industry.