Exceptional weather in 2018 impacts 2019 potato crisp prices in UK, EU

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

As sizes shrink, so prices of potato chips are rising, thanks to the weather. Pic: ©GettyImages/angintaravichian
As sizes shrink, so prices of potato chips are rising, thanks to the weather. Pic: ©GettyImages/angintaravichian

Related tags Potato chips Uk European union Yield European Snacks Association North-western European Potato Growers AHDB Potatoes

As predicted, last year’s extraordinarily hot, dry and overly wet weather conditions have increased the price of potato crisps (chips) in the UK.

In September 2018, BakeryandSnacks reported that the heatwave was expected to play havoc​ on the size and variety of potato chips across Europe and UK.

Now, media reports are circulating that certain brands of potato crisps – including Walkers, Wotsits, Hula Hoops and UK supermarket own-name brands – have increased by as much as 25%.

And while the prices go up, the sizes have shrunk.

Some multipacks have dropped from 12x25g packs to 10x25g packs and from 20x25g packs to 18x25gpacks, while earlier this month, it emerged that chips are an inch smaller on average this year.

Thanks to the hottest summer on record since 1910, British potato farmers suffered a 10%-15% drop in crop yields.

Temperatures soared across much of the UK throughout June and July, reaching highs of 35.3°C.

As a result, the UK recorded its smallest potato harvest since 2012,​down 13% on the five-year average of 5.6m tonnes, according to AHDB Potatoes, a division of the UK’s Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board.

EU conditions

North-western European Potato Growers (NEPG) reported the harvest for continental Europe, too, ended up significantly lower.

Sebastian Emig, director general of the European Snacks Association (ESA) said uncommon weather across Europe has affected crop yields; however, he declined to comment on whether this has driven up the price of the popular snack in the region.

“As you will be aware, 2018 was a challenging year for many European potato farmers due to extreme weather conditions,”​ he told BakeryandSnacks.

In 2018, MARS data revealed that, following a severe cold spell in February and March, many parts of Europe suffered from overly wet weather conditions, which led to significantly delayed planting of potatoes in France, Italy, Hungary and the Balkans.

In other regions, delays were caused by a combination of prolonged periods with low temperatures accompanied by (or alternating with) high levels of precipitation. 

In April and May, Northern, Central and Eastern Europe faced an exceptionally warm weather anomaly, with rain deficits impacting on growth in parts of Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.

In southern France and northern Spain, excess rain hampered field activity.

Significantly higher than average temperatures in June, July, August and September led to water stresses and drought conditions in many potato growing regions and meant that crops – and particularly early crops in unirrigated fields – were negatively impacted.

“Growers were battling extreme heat and a shortage of water last year, as you can see on the AHDB weather hub, the combined June and July period was one of the driest on record. Fields that were irrigated will have enjoyed a reasonable crop, while in others yields were very low,”​ said Dr Rob Clayton, strategy director of AHDB Potatoes.

“We ended up with a relatively small harvest, and these are the potatoes being used to make the crisps we love now.”

Sub-optimum quality

ESA’s Emig added, “We have already seen a substantial impact on potato size, dry matter and (especially in areas where there has been late rainfall) an increase in defects such as cracking, bruising and secondary growth. These defects mean that many tubers are unsuitable for processing.

“Due to the Europe-wide potato shortage, crisp manufacturers may well have to accept sub-optimum lots of potatoes – that is, outside of normal specifications – and we understand manufacturers have looked to potato varieties that are not normally used for sliced potato crisps, but which are used for production of potato starches and dehydrated potato products.”

However, he noted the specific tuber varieties used to make potato starches and dehydrated potato products for potato chip production are also predominantly grown in those countries in Europe that were the most severely impacted by drought conditions.

What’s in store for 2019?

“We are also concerned that the exceptionally bad weather conditions in 2018 will not only have an influence on this year’s crop, but also on the quality of the seed potatoes for next year’s planting,”​ said Emig.

“We know from experience that suboptimal seed potatoes will lead to an inferior potato quality, even if the weather conditions in 2019 are more stable.”

“Will this summer be a better growing season? It is dependent on the weather and it is notoriously difficult to predict long-term weather and rainfall. Growers will be hoping for some rain to fill their reservoirs in the winter, and a summer with a good mix of rain and sun to give the crop what it needs,”​ added Dr Clayton.

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