Demonisation of fat-free crop spurs potato industry campaign

POTATO INDUSTRY leaders want to shatter the common misconception that potatoes are fattening and that the misunderstood tuber does fit in with convenience food culture.

Potatoes have a misguided image among younger generations, Nick White, head of corporate affairs at AHDB Potatoes, said.

Ahead of the potato industry’s biggest annual date, BP2015 in Harrogate next week, Nick White, head of corporate affairs at AHDB Potatoes, says the industry needs to excite young shoppers that potatoes are healthy and can be enjoyed as part of a quickly prepared meal midweek.

Mr White said the industry was aiming a new £2.5m three-year promotional campaign, co-funded by the EU, principally at 25 to 34-year-old women, who are the least likely to buy potatoes and whose consumption of potatoes over the ten years to 2012 fell by more than five per cent.

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“The younger generation are more likely to have the perception that potatoes are fattening, that carbohydrates are fattening,” Mr White said.

Nick White, head of corporate affairs at AHDB Potatoes.

“Carbohydrates have been largely demonised over time and therefore people are mindful of what they eat and people on diets are more inclined to leave potatoes out of their cooking repertoire.

“The message is quite simple: it’s a myth that they are fattening. As part of a balanced diet there is a good role for carbohydrates on the plate.”

The so-called demonisation of carbohydrates - the body’s main source of energy - is associated with the promotion of low-carb diets such as the Atkins, Dukan and South Beach, but according to the Government’s healthy eating advice, a third of diets should be made up of starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta - all sources of carbohydrates.

“From a UK point of view we are far behind that,” Mr White said. “We eat too much, full stop, and we eat too much of the wrong things like sugary food, unfortunately people have built up this myth and carbohydrates have become part of that mythology.

Harvesting potatoes with a Grimme elevator.

“A potato is naturally fat-free, is a good source of potassium and fibre, is naturally gluten-free and salt-free - there are a lot of healthy messages around potatoes.”

He said potatoes had lost significant share of the market over the last 40 years as pasta, rice and more recently couscous have rivalled them as accompaniments to meat on dinner plates.

Another battle with consumers is to convince them that potatoes can fit in with people’s busy lives.

Mr White said: “There is a perception that potatoes are a faff to cook; that you have to peel and boil them, but you don’t have to peel potatoes, a lot of their goodness is in the skin, just wash them and you can have them ready as quick as pasta. Our challenge is to get that understanding with younger generations.”

He said it had been a good year for potato harvests, with higher than expected yields forecast to show in the final figures for the year.

He added: “What we want is a potato industry that is in rude health because when you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, potatoes are a £4bn industry with 2,000 British growers which employs 16,000 people. It’s a vital part of UK agriculture so it is our best interests to look after it.”

Around 200 European companies will be exhibiting at BP2015, the potato industry event, at Harrogate International Centre on November 12-13, where growers can learn more about the latest developments across the sector.