Consumers, COVID-19 News, Europe, UK, Ireland, Processing, Retail, Trends

Belgian potato fries in the frying pan: Country’s proud industry feeling the heat of COVID-19 effects

When you read the headline ‘Belgian’s urged to eat more fries’ you may think it’s a joke, but in Belgium, it was a serious request, reports Leighton Schneider for ABC News International.

The country’s potato industry has been hit hard by COVID-19 since it started hitting China and the rest of Asia. When the virus began shutting down Italy, Spain, and eventually Belgium, the crisis was in full swing, according to Romain Cools, the Secretary-General of Belgapom, which oversees Belgium’s potato trade and processing industry.

He tells ABC News’ “Perspective Podcast” the country has a giant surplus of potatoes, which was caused by the shutdown of the food service sector since about 70 percent of the potatoes in Belgium are consumed out of the home.

“We are talking about 750,000 tons of potatoes in Belgium alone, which is about 30,000 trucks full of potatoes in a row. These potatoes, they have no market, they have no consumption,” said Cools.

In his more than 30 years in the industry, Cools has never seen a surplus like this one, and he is worried it might affect future seasons, including one that will start in a few weeks.  

“We are finding solutions to prolong the potato season till August, so people who can store potatoes till August, they will store them. Of course, that will affect next season. When we talk about plantings being done already for next season, the first potatoes will be harvested in July. The question is, will there be enough places to process these potatoes? And how will that also affect the crop of next year?,” Cools said.

He has been thinking of ways to increase the consumption of potatoes, one of the main staples of Belgian food, including eating more fries.

The idea came to him after a Belgian journalist asked what Belgians can do to help out.

“I just said from the heart, ‘I said, look, you could help us by just buying, and eating, extra time frozen potato products during the Coronavirus crisis,’” said Cools.

He says the request is serious due to the impact shutdowns are having on his industry.

“We are not only facing problems for our potato growers, but also our processing industry. They are processing these potatoes, which they promised to take from the farmers, but they have a lack of freezing capacity at this moment,“ said Cools.

Cools is worried farmers and processors may have to throw away potatoes, but he says they may be able to avoid that scenario with the help of Too Good to Go, an app that sells unsold food that would have become waste.

He’s also working with the government of the Flemish region of Belgium to give potatoes that would have gone to waste to food banks across the country.

Source: ABC Audio

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher of Potato News Today

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