The Chips are Down for the Belgian Potato Industry as consumers are asked to eat twice as many French Fries

Cook them, Boil them, Mash or Fry them – Belgians called upon to eat more fries as potato mountains pile up.

IN Belgium, the birthplace of ‘French fries,’ mountains of potatoes are piling up as global demand drops amid coronavirus shutdowns. Belgium’s potato industry is now appealing to citizens to do their part and double their consumption of the Belgian specialty.

Belgians are being called upon to eat fries at least twice a week as more than 750,000 tons of potatoes are at risk of being thrown away. The coronavirus crisis has led to a surplus of potatoes in the small European country, as demand for frites – a national dish of twice-fried potatoes often eaten in bars and restaurants – has slumped amid Belgium’s government-enforced lockdown.

Romain Cools, secretary-general of Belgian potato industry body Belgapom, said around 750,000 tons of potatoes – enough to fill 30,000 big lorries – would probably not be processed because of the pandemic.

The issue was largely down to a fall in demand in the frozen potato sector, which accounts for around 75 per cent of Belgium’s potato processing, he said. As inventories built up, freezer capacity was being squeezed. In order to mitigate the problem, Belgapom was appealing to Belgians to up their weekly intake of fries.

“We’re working with supermarkets to see whether we can launch a campaign asking Belgians to do something for the sector by eating fries – especially frozen fries – twice a week during the coronavirus crisis,” Cools said. “What we are trying to do is to avoid food waste, because every lost potato is a loss.”

The remaining 25 per cent of the industry, which includes the production of fresh potatoes and snack products, was doing fairly well amid the lockdown, Cools noted, as more people were cooking and snacking at home.

Belgium’s government implemented a nationwide state of lockdown on March 18 in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus. To date, the country has had 46,687 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 7,207 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

On Friday, Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes announced that the government would ease the lockdown in three stages, beginning with the opening of some businesses on May 4 – but cafes and restaurants will not be allowed to reopen until June 8.

‘Holding my heart for the months to come’

Even after lockdown measures are lifted, the cancellation of events like summer festivals presents potato producers with a prolonged fall in demand, which Cools said meant Belgium’s potato industry was “definitely” facing a long-term crisis.


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Written by

Tony Winterburn

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