The Jersey Royal has dominated the UK early season fresh produce market for over a century – but farming developments in the potato sector, stiff competition from other agricultural regions and changing consumer habits threaten its market lead.
Mike Renouard, business unit director of the Island’s biggest grower and exporter, The Jersey Royal Company, says reinforcing the potato’s premier credentials is the best way to secure its future.
He said: ‘We need to maintain a premium and it is my belief that in the future perhaps we need to grow slightly less and not chase down the big volume promotions which drive down the price, but maintain a premium above the other higher yielding less flavoursome varieties.
‘We also need to continually remind the consumer that this is a freshly harvested spud that is seasonally produced in some of the most fertile soils in the British Isles and, yes, “buy British” as we are part of Britain and so our carbon footprint is much lower than many imports.’
Depending on weather conditions that affect the crop, around 30,000 tonnes of Jersey Royals are exported to the UK over a five-month season.
The Jersey Royal Company produces between 15,000 to 18,000 tonnes which equates to between 50 and 70% of exports.
The remainder of the export crop is grown by around nine farmers, seven of whom send their potatoes to Albert Bartlett Jersey to process and sell to major supermarkets, wholesalers and smaller retail multiples.
Mr Renouard said there had been many changes in produce retail over the past 30 to 40 years including the introduction of processed foods, a more varied diet and a global market.
Development in storage also means potatoes can be stored for nearly a year before going on sale.
Mr Renouard said: ‘The problem faced by the Jersey Royal sector is that we are growing a heritage variety and competing against newer varieties that have been bred to produce more, be more uniform in size and be capable of being stored.
‘There are not many true “new” potatoes grown now, hence the change in the market terminology to salad and baby potatoes. The Jersey Royal still leads the market as the best-tasting, fresh, true seasonal new potato which is on your plate within just a few days of being harvested, wherever you live in the UK.
The Jersey Royal Brand is still one of only a few true brands in the fruit and veg sector. However, it has to compete in terms of price and this is difficult when you are up against newer varieties that can give twice the yield and can be on the supermarket shelves for nearly 12 months of the year.’
Further coverage in page 8 and 9 of Monday's JEP.