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GB fresh potato imports higher with late start to the season

Publication Date: 
27 October 2016

Sara Maslowski, Senior Analyst, sara.maslowski@ahdb.org.uk, 02476 478 953

This season was characterised by late planting and slow crop development delaying the start of the new season. We therefore suggested, back in the spring, that the GB industry may be reliant on fresh imports for longer this summer, before most domestic crops became available. Latest data from HMRC shows that fresh potato imports were 37,000 tonnes in July-August 2016. This was up nearly 20% on the same period in both 2014 and 2015, reflecting the tighter supply situation.

Looking at July and August separately (see Figure 1), the bulk of the fresh import increase came during July, while waiting for domestic crop to become available. At just over 27,000 tonnes, this was higher than in most recent years. In contrast, fresh imports in August dropped right back to just over 10,000 tonnes. This was lower than the same period last year and in 2013, and around the same level as in 2014.

In August we’d typically be sourcing most fresh potatoes from Cyprus, however this year that hasn’t been the case, with 70% fewer imports than August 2015 and 2014. Instead, greater volumes came from countries closer to home, which may be also to do with the specific varieties available.

The majority of fresh imports in July were sourced from the Netherlands as shown in Figure 2. A bulk of this is likely to be chipping varieties used to supplement domestic supply to fish and chip shops. On price alone, these were an attractive alternative at this point in the season. As can be seen in Figure 3, prices of GB processing varieties were at a significant premium to their European counterparts.

We’re now entering the period when fresh potato imports are typically at their lowest in the season, assuming that there is sufficient home grown supply at this point to meet domestic demand. However, with a tight supply situation likely both domestically and on the continent, availability of stocks close to home may come under pressure.

Furthermore, the tight supply in mainland Europe is putting upwards pressure on European potato prices. Coupled with a weak sterling, GB potato prices are actually competitive onto the mainland (see Figure 3), leading to some European processors looking to GB (and elsewhere) for supplies. For more on the unusual North European market dynamics click here.   

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