Bélgica: Trend in quantities of potato buying has changed
Warnez, a potato packaging company, has been involved in packaging various sizes and kinds of potatoes since 1950. The factory is situated in Tielt, Belgium.
Here, the carefully selected potatoes are washed, sorted and packaged, and then transported to the retailers. The demand for packaged potatoes has changed dramatically through the years.
"On average, we package between 900 to 1000 tonnes of potatoes per week", says Charlotte Warnez, who works in marketing at the company. "We pack bags of from 300 grams to 5 kg, and everything in between. Ten and 25 kg bags are an exception. Our own storage potatoes, and those of our contract growers come from the lime soil areas within a 250 km radius from the company. The majority is Belgian grown, but we also grow some special varieties in France. New potatoes are grown in the Mediterranean regions.
Freshly harvested potatoes, as well as those taken from storage, waiting to be washed, sorted and packaged.
A potato jacuzzi
When the potatoes are delivered, by truck, to the factory, they are quickly dealt with before they end up in a bag. First they get washed. "We want to ensure that the potatoes get the minimal amount of bruising during that process", says Charlotte. "We do this by washing them in a type of warm jacuzzi. Then the potatoes go to an optical sorting machine, where they are separated by size. Green potatoes and ones with other kinds of blemishes are also sorted out here."
The unwashed potatoes on their way to the ’jacuzzi’.
The potatoes get washed.
Washed and on their way to get sorted.
Once the potatoes have been sorted, the crates of potatoes are automatically placed in the correct area of the factory. "This is done by means of a barcode placed on the crate. When this is read by sensors, it is known exactly where that particular crate needs to go", says Charlotte. "When the potatoes in each crate meet the required standards, the crate goes to the warehouse. If this does not happen, the potatoes are inspected again by hand. The need for this second inspection usually depends on the season. The quality of the potatoes are good at the moment. Later in the season, however, the chances are bigger that we will need to do the additional inspections more often."
On their way to the optical sorter, which controls their size and quality.
The sorting process.
The computer systems knows where to send the potatoes by means of a barcode placed on the side of the crates.
All kinds of shapes and sizes
When the potatoes have been washed and inspected, they are ready to be packaged. Dozens of lines package different quantities for the various retailers in Belgium. "The potatoes eventually fall out of the weighing system into a bag, which is then sealed. There are various types of packaging; from steam packaging to trays, paper bags, and stand-up pouches; you name it", says Charlotte. "We have permanent clients who buy our bags under private labels. We transport potatoes daily and just-in-time to our clients."
A number of packaging lines in the background. Here different kinds, sizes and quantities are packaged. In the foreground, already-packaged potatoes.
Potatoes on their way to bags via the filling tube. The bags are then sealed.
The packaged potatoes.
Smaller quantities of potatoes
A noticeable trend that Charlotte has seen, is that the quantity of potatoes bought, is becoming smaller and smaller. "We have noticed that we are selling smaller quantities of potatoes than before", she says. "In the past, we sold a lot of 5kg bags, in particular. Now it is more often 2,5 kg bags. We are also seeing that we are selling more of the 1 kg bags. Families are shrinking in size, and we are not primarily eating at home anymore. People cook less often than in the past. This is why the smaller quantities are becoming more popular. Potatoes which are packed so that they can be cooked directly in the microwave, are also more in demand. The same applies to baby potatoes, which do not have to be peeled or cut. The trend we are seeing is that the volume of potatoes we are selling is stable, but the number of bags leaving our doors has increased."
Warnez’s various kinds of packaging. Source: Warnez.
According to manager, Jan Warnez, it is going well with the packaging company. He says Warnez is the market leader in its sector in Flanders, when it comes to small quantity potato packaging. "Our strength is that we can provide potatoes in various uniform forms and sizes", he says. "If one of our clients wants potatoes packed in a particular way, we ensure than he is the only one whose product is packaged in that manner. Take, for example, the filled potatoes, packaged in plastic containers. You can find them on the supermarket shelves. Due to the fact that the manufacturer buys a certain size of these containers, they are of a specific shape. So, we deliver uniform potatoes that fit exactly into these plastic containers. We have noticed that the demand for these kinds of custom products has increased."
A general example which clearly shows why the potatoes must, in certain circumstances, be of a specific size and shape.
For more information:
B-8700 Tielt (België)
T: +32 (0)51 400 812