In fries, mashed potatoes, chips, or steamed, potatoes are a kitchen essential. Normally inexpensive, they can feed the whole family at a lower cost. “The whole world wants to eat it,” notes the National Union of Potato Producers (UNPT). But in recent months, the price of fresh potatoes - sold on supermarket shelves - has continued to rise.
If, in January, a kilo was worth 1.67 euros in mainland France, it cost 2.06 euros last July, and 2.19 euros in August. This is the first time that ware potatoes have crossed this symbolic threshold of two euros, according to INSEE data. While demand continues to increase, this is not the only factor driving this price increase. “Last year, we came out of a catastrophic French and European harvest,” explains Geoffroy D’Evry, president of the UNPT. “The worst harvest in 30 years,” adds another sector specialist.
The cause is strong climatic variations which dried out then flooded the soil and damaged production. In addition to being a month late, “the volume was very bad,” explains Philippe Fardel, president of Mousline. Thus, the market found itself extremely tense during the last harvest last fall, with stocks running out until the end of the first half of the year. “In spring 2023, prices were excessively high, between 500 and 600 euros per tonne of potatoes,” mentions the president of Mousline. Added to this is “a sudden increase in production costs, inputs, fuel oil and labor,” adds Geoffroy d’Evry, who adds that “the market reacted to the company’s offer. law and demand.
This summer therefore represented a slow period for potatoes, with exceptionally low stocks and a new harvest only arriving this month. “Logically, the consumer price will fall” thanks to the filling of stocks and renegotiations with distributors. “But the producer price must not be affected,” recalls the UNPT. Concretely, when purchasing a bag of potatoes, 20% of the price goes to the farmer, 50% to the distributor, 10% for taxes and 20% to traders.
On the industrial side, the rise in prices has not gone unnoticed either with a “potato market that has skyrocketed”, in addition to production costs, says Philippe Fardel. If contracts with farmers are negotiated each year around December, the last contract “inflated by 50%”. The manufacturer was therefore forced to apply a 10% increase on its products at the start of the year, or the equivalent of two cents per portion. He is now awaiting the next commercial renegotiations with distributors, in the hope of finding an agreement to lower prices. For the UNPT, “it is up to large retailers and traders to lower their margins”.
“For years, the potato had no real value, today quality has a cost,” adds Geoffroy d’Evry, who fears that producers’ remuneration will be reduced. They are also paid on the net tonnage, once all the misshapen potatoes have been removed. This French quality is one of the major criteria for export. Across the Atlantic, Americans even call potatoes “made in France” “dolls”, because of their smooth skin. France is thus one of the largest exporters, with one in two potatoes sent abroad, notably to Spain, Portugal, Italy or central Europe. “If mass distribution does not play the game, the majority of our potatoes will be exported,” Geoffroy d’Evry is already warning.
This year, France should produce 43.9 tonnes of potatoes per hectare, “enough to feed everyone”, assures the UNPT. But concerns remain about the quality of the current harvest with “many unknowns”. “Last year, the drought was fatal, then there was too much cold at the start of the year, too much rain and drought again this summer,” explains the UNPT, which adds that “producers have rarely seen that.” It remains to be seen whether all the players will manage to agree in the coming weeks, in order to avoid consumers paying a high price for their potatoes.