Belgian potato-processing sector experienced record growth in 2018 and exceeded 5 million tonnes of processed potatoes.
However, in 2019 the sector is facing major challenges as a result of the poor growing season of 2018 – 2019
Belgapom, the association for the Belgian potato trade and processing industry, can announce that in 2018 the 5 million tonne mark was passed with regard to processed potatoes. This is absolutely a new record and what makes it even more remarkable, is that it is the sharpest annual increase since the nineteen-nineties. As a reminder: in 1990 around 500,000 tonnes of potatoes were processed into fries, mashed potato products, crisps or flakes and granules. 28 years later, the sector can report an increase of 1000 %. In the meantime, Belgium has become the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world, exporting to over 150 countries. The term ‘Belgian fries’ is part of our country’s international food image of chocolate, beers and fries. But the entire Belgian potato chain helped develop the growth: in addition to the farmers, for whom potatoes have become the most important source of revenues within arable farming, service providers and suppliers of machinery also experienced remarkable growth. They are increasingly also becoming global players with innovative products and technology.
The use of potatoes as a raw material rose by 11.6% in 2018. This is by far the sharpest increase in the history of this still relatively new sector of the Belgian food industry.
Increase in employment and investments form the basis for further sustainable growth
The sector continues to invest in the future, both with regard to quality and quantity. Sustainability is the leitmotiv through it all. Efforts are being made in the area of the sustainable cultivation of potatoes, environmentally friendly production and logistics.
Employment has also seen remarkable growth with an increase of 8 % compared to 2017. At present, 4762 blue and white-collar workers are employed in this strongly automated sector.
And for the future, too, the ‘sustainable growth’ of the Belgian potato-processing sector is guaranteed, since in 2018 there were once again record investments in the sector for the sum of almost 311 million euros.
The reasons for this remarkable evolution are firstly the continued increasing demand for potato products on the world market. The ever-growing middle classes in Asia and South America is stimulating the demand for convenience food, including Belgian fries. The Belgian potato-processing industry is located in the heart of the European production area and it can make use of an ever more number of potato professionals and a unique logistical network with international ports nearby.
On the other hand, the Belgian potato sector has made use of the large supply of potatoes in the second half of the 2017-2018 season following a record potato harvest. Despite the setback of the 2018-2019 growing season with the exceptional drought and repeated heatwaves, there was a large supply of potatoes in the second half of 2018. Quite a number of batches could not be kept and – in consultation with the growers – it was decided to process them in the autumn of 2018.
In addition, the Belgian processing companies are also increasingly investing in promotion and developing their commercial network. One example of this is the campaign in southeast Asia in cooperation with VLAM and APAQ-W and the European Commission, that has led to better familiarity with the story of ‘Belgian fries, from the heart of Europe’ in that part of the world too.
Not all good news
However, the prolonged drought and high temperatures during the 2018 -2019 growing season caused extensive damage to the Belgian potato chain.Not only will the low yield of the 2018 harvest probably have a major impact on the business results of all the operators of the Belgian potato chain, the confidence in this strong, largely family-run sector of SMEs developed over many years also threatened to be shaken up.
The agricultural organisations and Belgapom have as much as possible stimulated dialogue between the companies executing the contracts. They are also continuing to focus on achieving a trade organisation for the potato sector that should provide a fixed base to this dialogue.
Trade and industry have furthermore adapted their quality requirements as part of the solution to the problems, although admittedly this has led to shorter fries.
The high potato prices on the free market helped lead to a rising price for the finished products, which did not have a favourable impact on the Belgian competitive position vis-à-vis other production countries.
In addition, the Belgian and European industry is moving heaven and earth to also convince the European Commission to make a forceful end to the unfair antidumping measures of a number of countries. Not only do they damage the companies involved, in addition an unjustified negative image is being created of this dynamic sector, that has developed into a global player without systematic support from the government.
The difficult circumstances of the 2018-2019 season also have an impact on the amount and quality of the seed potatoes supplied, which might also affect the next season.
Finally, the sector is also regarding the imminent decision of the European Commission to no longer permit the sprout inhibitor CIPC with great uncertainty. This substance has been in use since time immemorial. Recent studies will perhaps result in its authorisation being revoked. Luckily the sector itself in collaboration with Flanders Food has already take the initiative to examine alternative substances with the Reskia research project (low-residue sprout inhibition). However, it is still necessary to learn how to handle this in practice and the sector will be confronted with significant investments in potato storage.
Belgapom calls on the Flemish and Walloon authorities to assist and support their producers in this.
The sector expects full cooperation from Europe to also find a solution for risks as a result of the historical contamination of the warehouses.
Working towards online growing advice via WatchITgrow
Within the framework of sustainable development of the sector, Belgapom and its companies want to offer their full support to VITO’s WatchITgrow platform. This instrument, that makes use of satellite data and numerous other information sources, is the successor to the Belspo Ipot project that Belgapom helped to set up.
Belgapom has called on its members to pay producers who, within the framework of their contract enter their parcels via WatchITgrow before 2019 and add the necessary cultivation data, a premium for this.
The data is used by VITO to develop growing advice controlled by AI (artificial intelligence). For the next 2 years, growers can make use of the online growing advice that will be further developed year after year. After that, a fee will be charged for the system, but it will also continue to further develop its advice and warnings.
Access to the harvest prognosis model is limited to just the grower – who is free to share it with his buyers if he wants to. It is important to point out that VITO is the only party who has access to this data.
Belgapom, Boerenbond and VITO together towards digital agriculture.
Boerenbond, Belgapom and VITO are teaming up to strengthen the future of the Belgian potato chain by further developing the online platform WatchITgrow.
WatchITgrow is a Belgian platform launched to support growers to monitor arable crops and vegetables, in view of increasing yields, both qualitatively and quantitatively. WatchITgrow uses various types of data starting with satellite data combined with e.g. weather data, soil data, IoT data and field data provided by the grower.
WatchITgrow aims to support individual growers to improve their yields and achieve a more sustainable production. WatchITgrow allows growers to gather massive amounts of data via a personal account. These data will be combined using new technologies such as big data analytics and machine learning to provide growers with more timely and personalized advice.
In the upcoming months Boerenbond and Belgapom will first focus on getting growers acquainted with the platform and assist them in gathering all crop-related data in the independent platform, hosted by VITO, guaranteeing data-privacy, data-security and data access.
Growers that collect their crop-related data via their personal account and submit these data via WatchITgrow can receive a financial bonus of 250 – 750 euro from their buyer. With this financial support the buyers want to support the individual growers and encourage them to use new digital technologies in order to strengthen our agricultural sector.
Next to the financial support to further develop WatchITgrow, Boerenbond and Belgapom will also actively promote the use of the platform towards the entire agricultural sector.
Belgapom introduces its ambassador for Belgian fries, James Bint, in Mexico during the economic mission
During the Belgian economic mission led by Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid, the Belgian potato sector featured prominently in the large delegation representing the Belgian food sector under the banner ‘Food.be, small country, great food’.
Sharply increasing export of Belgian frozen fries to Mexico
Belgium is the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world and export to Mexico is rising visibly. And on this market, that is traditionally oriented towards North America, Belgium is already the third largest importer of frozen fries. Last year, Belgian export rose by 282 % to around 10,000 tonnes.
The Belgian companies want to invest further in this growth market, especially now the NAFTA between the USA, Canada and Mexico will be replaced by the USMCA at the beginning of 2020 and the impact of this on trade relations between the USA and Mexico is still unclear.
Belgapom is also examining the phytosanitary possibilities of facilitating the export of fresh potatoes to Mexico. After all, that country only produces 65 % of the potatoes it needs.
Successful Belgapom press event
During a well-attended press event organised in cooperation with FIT which was introduced by the Belgian Ambassador in Mexico, Mr Antoine Evrard, Mr Philippe Muyters, the Minister for Economic Affairs for the Flemish Region, positioned the Flemish and Belgian potato chain in the framework of rich tradition and cooperation and constant innovation efforts.
He illustrated this using the cooperation of Belgapom and the companies of the Flemish spearhead cluster Flanders Food, where numerous innovative projects have started up. Various company projects are also running via Wagralim in Wallonia. The sector also believes in artificial intelligence as VITO’s WatchITgrow project shows. In addition to monitoring the potato plots using satellite photography, in the next few years the idea is to develop online cultivation advice based on a broad database that can integrate all the newly developed disease control models. This should offer further opportunities for sustainable potato cultivation in the Belgian potato region, with its central location in the European potato-growing region.
The new pilot factory in Kortrijk within the context of the Veg-I-Tec Interreg-project should stimulate innovation with regard to processes and products in the Belgian potato and vegetable processing sectors.
James Bint, the ambassador of the Belgian “frietkot” culture now also in Mexico
Finally, Belgapom Secretary-General Romain Cools provided an overview of the Belgian potato chain, with emphasis on the typically Belgian “frietkot” culture. This authenticity – recognised as national, cultural heritage – together with the dynamic nature of the entire potato chain forms the basis of this unique sector. The Belgian potato-processing sector now also wants to enable the Mexican consumer to enrich the rich variety of street food with real ‘papas fritas belgas’.
Some 20 food journalists and bloggers put it to the test and together with the invited guests enjoyed delicious fries served in a traditional Belgian cone with a Mexican chipotle sauce. A refreshing Belgian beer and a few delicious Belgian chocolates rounded off the tasting. And the Belgian ambassador of the “frietkot” culture, James Bint, saw that it was good.
Belgian fries were also present at the ‘Sabores de Bélgica’ event, organised by AWEX, of the Belgian food sector, at which the companies Agristo and Mydibel were present. And naturally the well-attended closing reception in the historic setting of the Colegio de San Ildefonso in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City could not be rounded off without a bag of Belgian fries and a selfie with James Bint.
Imagine a world without potatoes
The international potato center CIP has launched at the World Potato Congress 2018 in Cuzco Peru the idea to set up a global promotion campaign for the potato under the slogan : 'Imagine a world without potatoes'.
Everybody who's involved one way or another with potatoes can take part in this campaign : all over the world in 2019 and 2020 the question will be raised whether one can himself 'a world without potatoes'.
SME-members of Belgapom or Europatat can register for this campaign through their organization. Larger companies have pass CIP.
No more doubt and join ! We imagine you can't imagine a world without potatoes, can you ?
More information in this brochure.
World Potato Congress gives farmers in the Andes an extra boost via Trias project
This spring, Trias was one of the highlights at the World Potato Congress in Peru. The contacts made during this event with various partners have been fruitful.
Every three years, the World Potato Congress brings together thousands of researchers and professionals from the global potato sector. For this spring's edition, Congress President Romain Cools booked in a presentation of the projects Trias has carried out together with a number of local farmers' organisations in the Andes, the birthplace of the potato.
Generator for freezer room
'During the event, we met some interesting people', explains Lieve Van Elsen, regional director of Trias Andes. 'Take for example seed and fertilizer sellers. In the past, these companies were not int
erested in small farmers from Conpapa or Coopagros. But during the World Potato Congress, they discovered the potential of these farmers' organisations and their members. That is interesting for the farmers as the companies also offer technical assistance.'
Significantly, the national governments in the Andes countries have been enthused. In Peru, the government was so impressed by the new freezer
room of Coopagros' potato growers that they immediately made a generator available to provide the installation with electricity, making the freezer room operational. However, the quality of the freeze-dried potatoes still needs to be optimized, which is why Trias has started a partnership with the ILVO, Unversity College Ghent, the University of Andahuaylas and the International Potato Center in Peru.
In Ecuador, agriculture minister Rúben Flores unveiled ambitious plans after the World Potato Congress. 'We got the chance to speak to the minister', says Van Elsen, who is excited about the 500,000 dollars that Flores has just freed up for the country's potato sector.
'The potato sector in Ecuador will get an extra impulse with investments in informing companies, monitoring the quality of seeds and building new storage warehouses. The model for this is Conpapa's warehouse, which was built several years ago with the support of Trias Andes and our Flemish partners. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian government will subsidise a crisp factory run by Agropapa, another farmers' organisation which Trias works with', explains the regional director.
Trias Andes' Flemish partners are also keen to keep up the good work. Siebe Moeyaert is currently in Ecuador, designing a weighing and packing add-on for Conpapa's potato growers as part of his master's in electromechanics. The add-on will be coupled to the washing and sorting machine that was constructed two years ago with the support of Boerenbond, Belgapom and VTI in Torhout.
This new add-on will serve as the basis for detailed designs that students at the VTI will do this autumn as part of their final year.
In the last decade, Trias has built on the Flemish coalition supporting potatoes in the Andes. In 2008, Belgapom was brought on board as part of the International Year of the Potato. Since then, partnerships have been forged at different points in time with Rotary, the VTI, the VLTI, the ILVO and the Province of West Flanders.
Although Peru and Ecuador are currently middle-income countries, it is still difficult for the millions of farming families in the Andes to enjoy a standard of living that we consider 'normal'. Most of their villages are isolated, and a long way from high-quality, basic healthcare and education services. Mining is the most important sector in production value terms, but it is agriculture that provides jobs. The low incomes and limited infrastructure mean that many people leave rural areas.
Marc Van Herreweghe new chairman of Belgapom
The annual general meeting of Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade and processing industry association, has appointed Marc Van Herreweghe as its chairman. He succeeds Marc Seru who in accordance with the articles of association was not available for re-election after two terms of 3 years.
Marc Van Herreweghe is the CEO of the family-owned potato processing company Mydibel in Mouscron.
He started his international career at British American Tobacco, one of the world’s leading multinationals with 44 factories in 42 countries. His career at BAT is impressive, working up to Group Head of Manufacturing, responsible for all of the group’s factories. He is an expert in People Leadership, Business Integration & Transformation, Operational Excellence, Industry 4.0 and Mergers & Acquisitions.
Afterwards he worked as a consultant for various international companies amongst other things as Associated Vice-President of IDC (International Data Corporation), global leader in Market Intelligence, Advisory Services and Research. In addition, he has seats on various executive boards.
Since the beginning of this year, Marc Van Herreweghe is also chairman of the executive committee for the Processing section within Belgapom.
During his word of thanks, he pointed to the necessity of the fast-growing potato sector in our country to make use of the technological means available to better coordinate the entire potato chain. This can benefit all the links in the chain according to the new chairman.
However, in addition, the potato sector must more than ever before defend its interests: our country has the ideal soil and climate for growing potatoes. Thanks to the development of the potato-processing sector into a leading industrial player in the global agro-food sector, we are faced with numerous new challenges. For example, from the consequences of climate change, the increasing pressure from disease and pests and the availability of workers via the demand for ever more sustainable production and the pressure on the use of crop protection agents to the increasing market protection that poses major challenges to global trade.
It is Belgapom’s task to handle this, together with the chain, through efficient cooperation with our national and European organisations. To this end he also pointed out the role of the inter-branche organisation to be founded in our country.
New Belgapom board.
In addition to the election of a new chairman, the board was also renewed.
The following have seats representing the Trade section: Marc Bauden, Ben Muyshondt, Bart Nemegheer, Marc Seru, Rik Tanghe and Heike Valcke.
The following have seats representing the Processing section: Jan Clarebout, Yves De Vinck, Dirk Desloovere, Wim Lannoey, Carlo Mylle and Hannelore Raes.
This board has a mandate until 2021.
FVPhouse event on remote sensing and blockchain technology
Immediately after Belgapom’s AGM, there was an event organised together with Belgapom’s partners in the FVPhouse umbrella Fresh Trade Belgium and Vegeben, in collaboration with VITO.
After that, Walter Stiers illustrated the opportunities of blockchain technology for the functioning of the value chain by means of a number of examples. Both remote sensing and blockchain can be important tools for efficient insurance.
Record investments in the Belgian potato-processing sector are continued in 2017: production figures higher once again
The record year of 2016 for the Belgian potato-processing industry continued into 2017, according to Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade and processing industry association.
During the past few years, the Belgian potato industry developed into one of the fastest growing sectors in the Belgian food industry. Partly thanks to the significant investment in capacity and quality, this trend continued in 2017. Thus last year 4.57 million tonnes of potatoes (+ 3.6 %) were processed into fries, crisps, croquettes, flakes, granules and other potato products.
What is noticeable in 2017 is the exceptional increase in products other than fries (crisps, croquettes, mash products, flakes, etc.), which evolved from 468,513 to 690,159 tonnes (+ 47.5%).
The share of frozen and fresh fries rose from 1.91 million tonnes to 1.99 million tonnes (+ 4.3 %), however the share of fresh refrigerated fries fell by 3.5 %.
For the season 2017-2018 statistics show with 5,11 million tons of potatoes an absolute record harvest for Belgium. This increase in resulting from the increase in planted area, the choices of varieties and the influence of weather conditions. The figures published by Belgapom relate to the calendar year of 2017, which spans two potato seasons (2016-2017 and 2017-2018).
But what is certainly fanning the optimism in the sector is the fact that in 2017 the record sum of over 305 million euros invested in the potato-processing sector was almost equalled (-1.3 %). Employment in the sector once gain also grew by 7.1 % (4,410 units).
According to the latest statistics, Belgium remains by far the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world in 2017 with 2.2 million tonnes. The share of third countries continues to increase.
On the eve of the national holiday in 2017, all the competent authorities recognised the ‘frietkot culture’ as national intangible cultural heritage. On that occasion, Prince Laurent of Belgium granted the mandate of “ambassador of the Belgian frietkot culture abroad” to James Bint, the famous cartoon character who analogously with his homonym ‘James Bond’ has a ‘license to fry’.
Last year, the figure of James Bint was used to start the promotion campaign for ‘Belgian fries, from the heart of Europe’ in southeast Asia. By participating in trade fairs and press events, the Belgian fry producers try to demonstrate the authenticity and quality of the Belgian fries in this fast-growing market of 557 million consumers. As of today, after all the supply of potato products in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand above all comes from North Africa.
The campaign – with the support of the European Commission – is being carried out by VLAM in cooperation with APAQ-W, FIT and AWEX and will continue in 2018 and 2019. There are events planned in the near future in Singapore, Manilla, Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.
In the week of 9-15 May, the Central World Bangkok – one of the largest shopping centres in the world – will be dominated by “real Belgian fries”. For one week, Belgian fries will be offered for tasting and during the weekend of 11-13 May, the famous Belgian frietkot manager, Eddy Cooremans, will be present to fry and recommend Belgian fries. What is more, a real-life James Bint will provide additional entertainment with his text balloons. This event is also being linked to social media and B2B events such as the Thaifex trade fair.
… and increasing protectionism
But on the other side of the world, a threat is emerging. Belgian (and European) fries risk becoming the victim of protectionist reflexes that threaten international trade.
After unjustified antidumping measures by the Brazilian government (the legal complaint against this by the European companies is still pending), a decision by the Colombian government is soon also expected about a similar case. The dossier resembles a Swiss cheese with just as many holes (which was also confirmed by the European Commission), but a negative decision here can still lead to unjustified import levies. Unfortunately, these dossiers have also got other South American countries thinking about making use of this procedure, even if there is no reason to do so at all.
Belgapom and the European federation EUPPA have urged the European Commission to increase the pressure to end such practices, where apparently there is no hesitation in falsifying a dossier even during the process.
Not only has the Belgian sector chosen to press ahead to guarantee the sustainability of its national potato production by setting up further forms of cooperation via the Potato Branch Organisation, which is to be baptised during Interpom Primeurs (25-27 November 2018). But Belgapom also supports international cooperation projects within the potato sector in developing countries. For example the project Coalición Chuño by TRIAS in collaboration with a number of other partners such as ILVO, VTI, VLTI and Rotary Torhout, which supports the construction of the first artisanal chuño factory in the world in Peru (a century-old technology for freeze-drying potatoes). This project will be presented to the whole world as an example of development aid through potatoes during the World Potato Congress in Cuzco (27-31 May 2018).