The annual Potato Days event in Joure is a valued networking event attracting hundreds of growers and customers from many countries. This year, many more interested individuals from all over the world seized the opportunity to join the online Potato Days 2020, which took place live from a virtual studio, last Wednesday.
At least 1300 people from the entire potato chain met each other in an interactive online setting where they experienced the event together. With Potato Days Live, HZPC says it sets a new standard that fits the current reality and the future.
The limitations around Covid-19 turned out to be a catalyst for change at HZPC. The internationally operating company experienced a growth spurt in the last six months when it comes to virtual meetings, with Potato Days Live as the highlight.
“Especially in these challenging times it is essential to stay in touch with our growers, customers and other partners,” said CEO Gerard Backx during the opening. The innovative approach of the first online Potato Days was successful and offers interesting perspectives for the way in which HZPC is in contact with all its stakeholders worldwide.
This new format offers opportunities to communicate more directly with our various target groups in the coming years, says communications manager Patrick Overwijk. ‘With the theme Let’s Connect, the Potato Days were all about connection and what we hoped for, we saw happening yesterday. Interaction and dynamics between people from more than ninety different countries, working across the full width of the potato chain – via the live chats that everyone could follow, but also during the various substantive break-out sessions and via the 1-on-1 chats with HZPC employees behind the scenes.
HZPC says it was happy to welcome many familiar faces into the online audience – visible through a photo as an avatar – but was also delighted that there were many new visitors.
An online poll shows that more than forty percent of the participants are annual visitors. Around twenty percent occasionally visit and more than thirty percent grabbed the chance to be present for the first time at this accessible online edition.
“This group ranged from growers and customers from faraway countries to students and people from inside and outside the sector who are curious about what we do,” says HZPC’s Patrick Overwijk.
“For us, this was an opportunity to show a broader group that we are an innovative player in the market, but above all how important knowledge-sharing, innovation and collaboration are for HZPC. The focus is on partnership, and that was evident throughout the entire program of the Potato Days, from the table discussions and break-out sessions to the keynote speakers and the short Meet the Growers videos”.
HZPC invited interesting guests for the plenary program, including Pedro Sousa of McDonalds, the renowned young American farmer Eric Sannerud, and Professor Martin van Ittersum of Wageningen University.
Also Aviko Potato director Dick Zelhorst, who emphasized the importance of sustainable varieties, joined the program. He asked R&D director Robert Graveland at the table about the pace of variety development. He said that thanks to innovative techniques, things are going faster and faster: instead of ten years, the turnaround time is now about seven years, although new varieties come onto the market every year. Breeder Peter Vos already presented the three rising stars: Camelia, Cardyma and Rashida.
“This virtual presentation of our varieties also tastes like more,” says Overwijk. “You can highlight characteristics and interesting data for growers and the market in an appealing way and spread them online very easily”.
The annual Potato Person of the Year award ceremony also took a surprising turn with this online edition. Instead of putting someone from the sector in the spotlight, CEO Gerard Backx donated a cheque worth € 10,000,- on behalf of HZPC to the United Nations World Food Programme.
“This food program is close to our hearts”, said Backx. “Worldwide, one in eight people are still hungry when they go to sleep. Local food supply is an important key to solving this distressing problem. We are doing our bit by making seed potatoes accessible to countries where there is a lot of hunger, such as Sudan, but also with this contribution to the World Food Programme as a symbol of our support”.
The importance of food supply in a rapidly changing world, with challenges such as a growing world population – especially in Africa and Asia – and climate change, poses great challenges to the sector.
Potato Days Live highlighted the need for cooperation within the chain and the extent to which good and sustainable seed potatoes are at the basis of healthy potatoes that ultimately end up in the mouths of the world’s population, in whatever form.
Innovation is therefore the main driver behind the seed potato business of HZPC, as well as cooperation with all partners in the chain. In short, taking each other to the next level, something that has already succeeded in this unique online edition of the Potato Days.