AHDB Arable Analyst, Thomma Shepherd, provides an analysis of what has driven potato markets over the last few weeks. She says the weekly average price survey, covering all sectors of the industry, shows potatoes have had a depressed few months, lagging behind previous seasons. The 2nd wave of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has killed a lot of demand for potatoes. With the majority of hospitality closed along with schools there has been little optimism within the industry.
In the first half of March, it looked like the tides were beginning to turn. Both free-buy prices and overall average potato prices were up over £17/t. Some of this was led by optimism, due to schools going back and the reopening of hospitality on the horizon. However, prices have slid back from these highs as demand from schools has not been as strong as hoped as more students are bringing in packed lunches and they have also now broken up for Easter. Although the slow easing of lockdown restrictions has begun news of coronavirus taking hold again across Europe is beginning to knock confidence.
This said, a report from the CGA in March, stated that 76% of consumers are likely to visit a venue with outdoor seating within a month of opening back up. This should give a boost to processing demand. News that holidaying abroad now risks a fine should increase domestic tourism trade and hopefully bring support to the bagged trade. Although bagged volumes are slower than normal for this time of the year, there does now seem to be more consistency than earlier in the season.
Stock levels are currently above the 5-year average, meaning there should be the tonnage available to cover any uplift in demand as we move towards the end of the season. There will, however, be question marks over quality, as temperatures rise as we move into spring, coupled with the loss of CICP. We are already beginning to hear anecdotal reports of issues in store. This could mean we see a greater spread in free buy prices as buyers begin to pay up for better quality potatoes.
For potato market analysis and pricing information, please visit ahdb.org.uk/potato/potato-markets.
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