Reduced supplies have pushed prices up by as much as 224%, compared with the same period last year.
A spokesman for McCain told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “McCain Foods (GB) is a proud supporter of British farming and our strategy is to source British potatoes to make McCain products.
“We have been working closely with our UK growers to minimise the impact of this challenging year but, due to widely reported issues with the recent harvest, we have had to source some potatoes from Europe in order to meet consumer demand.”
Data from the Potato Council puts this year’s average farm gate price at £215 per tonne, compared with £112 in the same period last year.
Depending on the end market, this year’s prices could range from £70 per tonne to £405 per tonne, compared with £20 per tonne to £150 per tonne last year.
Unprecedented adverse weather
Seabrook Crisps md, Jonathan Bye, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We always seek to source our potatoes from within the UK, but, due to the unprecedented adverse weather last year, we are having to supplement with small quantities of European potatoes this year.
“This is entirely consistent with others in our industry. Potatoes are available, but at much inflated prices – supply and demand rules.”
Walkers Crisps manufacturer PepsiCo insisted it had stuck with its pledge to consumers to source 100% British produce.
A PepsiCo spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “2012 was a tough year for British farming but, by working closely with our farmers, we’ve been able to use every last suitable potato and have continued to use 100% British potatoes for our Walkers core range.”
Some smaller food manufacturers have refused to import supply, opting to absorb price rises.
‘Astronomical’ price rises hurting her business
Claiming the “astronomical” price rises were hurting her business, Cornish pasty manufacturer Avice Gill, who runs Aunt Avice’s Pasty Shop in Cornwall, told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “This time last year I was paying £5.50 a bag and now I’m paying £14 a bag. But I’d never consider importing, I’m very much against it. I don’t want to use anything outside of England.”
Instead of importing potatoes, Nottinghamshire County Council has reduced the amount it uses in its school dinners, substituting them with rice and noodles in some cases.
Nottinghamshire County Council's service head of catering and facilities management, Kevin McKay, said: “The [main] impact on school meals has been the rising price of potatoes, especially jackets, where wholesale prices have doubled and the quality is poor. Other potatoes used for mashing and roasting are also sometimes poor and cooks have to be selective in what they can use.
“Understandably, this has put pressure on the school meals service. In spite of this, we have been able to maintain the price of our school meals and the Silver Food for Life quality standard by still using local and freshly-sourced food where we can.”
With cold weather delaying the planting of this year’s potato crop by two to three weeks, prospects for this year’s harvest aren’t good either, according to farmers.