Bélgica : Potato growers make their own chips to fight the big boys
More and more often, potato growers are choosing not to take their products to large processors, because they do their own processing.
Besides producing, more and more growers also process their own chips. They’re changing direction because of various causes, and they enter the processing industry increasingly often.
Not an easy start
One of the companies that chose to do things completely differently is Landlust Frites from Moerkapelle, the Netherlands. Derreck Bac is processing his own harvest of Agria and Frieslander into chips for the first time this year. He says it’s going well, although it’s not always easy. “There are many quality requirements. You have to bear in mind 100 things, and if you make just one mistake, quality isn’t what it should be. It’s a very precise business,” says the man running the company with his father and brother. “Fortunately I knew this in advance, and I was able to prepare myself for this. I also have experience processing vegetables. Because of that, I know what kind of growing pains to expect. That’s been very helpful in this process.”
The company Verse Boerderij Friet also makes fresh chips. In their case, they use Agria year-round, and occasionally they use Bintjes. The family company that has been working with potatoes since the 1930s, decided to start processing their own potatoes in 2014. “My brother and I actually got into it by chance,” says owner Adriaan Veerman. “When you offer a good service, there will always be a market for it. But starting a processing company isn’t always easy. We started with 50 kilos per week, which cost more than it yielded. My brother, aunt and a good acquaintance helped in the company free of charge, just to be helpful. At first you just can’t hire anyone yet.”
Potato world has to change
One of the reasons Adriaan also started doing the processing is because he no longer wanted to be dependent on the large potato processing companies that have too much power. He supplies chips to nursing homes, supermarkets, cafeterias, restaurants and consumers. “We’re all forced to produce a lot for low prices. That should change,” he says. “Many potato growers sign a contract with a large chips factory, and they then have to stick to it. And batches can just be rejected that way. If that makes them happy, they should continue working like that, but it doesn’t make me happy at all. For years I’ve grown bulk, and I’m glad that’s over. Factories sometimes forget two parties have to make a profit, not just one.”
Pieter and Adriaan Veerman. Pictures: Wouter Mikkers - fotografie
According to Derreck from Landlust Friet, many potato growers disappeared from the Randstad in recent years. By offering something besides the standard range, potato growers can be distinctive, he says. “We can’t compete with larger potato processors,” he continues. “Our chips go to catering establishments and retailers. Recently, we also introduced consumer packaging. People have to know that prices for small entrepreneurs like us are often higher than for large companies. But we grow as sustainably as possible. Besides, my family has years of experience in growing potatoes. There have been periods in which we had 80 hectares of potatoes. We now focus on fewer hectares. In future, we want to grow a bit again. We’re in a densely populated area in the Randstad. There’s always something to grow for all of those people. When there’s much demand, you don’t start growing for the global or the European market. We started processing our own potatoes because we wanted to take care of our own sales. It’s good to be in control of your own affairs.”
Adriaan of Verse Boerderij Friet says growers should start growing the potatoes differently. He indicates growers have to grow the amount the market can actually handle. “Every shed is filled with potatoes, but that’s also causing problems. After all, what will happen next year? Many growers will plant fewer potatoes. If there’s a dry summer, many potatoes will be lost, and they’ll be more expensive. The following year, more potatoes will be planted, so that there will be too many for the market. And it’ll never stop. Growers have to think about demand from the market, not about how much land is available. Growers have to learn to practice risk management, and what is and isn’t realistic. Growers too often face surprises now.”
Pictures: Wouter Mikkers - fotografie
According to Derreck of Landlust Frites, there are various reasons why more and more growers start processing their potatoes. “There are two reasons for this. Nowadays people see the importance of local products. It’s close to the source, and not much transport is needed. Besides, we’re seeing a gradual shift from frozen to fresh chips. People are becoming more conscious of their food, and want to know how it’s made. We also work energy-neutrally. Our entire roof is covered in solar panels. It’s important that consumers know about all of that. Storytelling by means of social media has become an important means to that end.”
Adriaan also thinks transparency is important. “I think the large processors are much to closed off,” he says. “You have to know where your food comes from, it has to be transparent. Because we grow, process and pack, everything done by our company can be followed. You should actually be able to shake the hand of every person involved in producing your food. That’s no longer the case nowadays. How do you know if you can trust that person? We used to have a large wall around our company, but we tore it down brick by brick. I think the entire food sector should become much more transparent. People are free to visit us. We have nothing to hide, so why shouldn’t we be open and honest towards our customers?”
Verse Boerderij Friet
Pieter and Adriaan Veerman