As the new year of 2014 dawned, our very own Charles Tong joined other figures in the potato industry who were asked for their thoughts on 2013’s highlights and low points and their predictions for 2014, and here’s some of his thoughts…
1. What was the industry highlight of 2013, in your opinion?
Last year saw farmers, growers and packers across the industry bring forward their investment plans, as many chose to take full advantage of recent increases in the Capital Allowance to upgrade their current systems and embrace new technologies.
With discount retailers growing their market share by attracting increasingly cost-conscious consumers, their suppliers in the potato industry have reaped the benefits and chosen to invest heavily in new handling equipment to keep up with demand.
2. What was the low point of 2013?
The shift towards convenience among consumers continued apace as demand for traditional, fresh potatoes carried on decreasing in favour of more processed alternatives such as pre-washed and pre-mashed varieties.
This long-term trend presents a challenge for the whole industry, and is making many traditional farmers and growers re-assess which varieties they are growing and how they are then processed.
3. What do you see as the biggest opportunity in 2014?
With convenience and cost at the top of consumers’ priority lists, it could be expected that the numbers choosing to buy their potatoes from the discount retailers will continue to rise. So too, I think, will sales of prepared and processed potatoes.
Packhouses are particularly well placed to benefit from these changing demands, especially those that are able to invest in additional handling equipment that adds value to crops, such as polishers, on top of their traditional grading and washing lines.
Whether these trends continue if the economy carries on improving remains to be seen, but considering current retail conditions I see these as the two big opportunities for the industry for the foreseeable future.
4. What do you see as the biggest threat in 2014?
This year’s big opportunities also have the potential to be challenging for the industry. Any change to buying patterns means that the old ways of doing things need updating in order to meet future demand, but change is nothing new in this industry and things are always moving. It’s the businesses that embrace this change that will thrive throughout 2014 and beyond.
5. In the longer term and on a more personal level, what are the opportunities for your company in the next five years?
At Tong we plan to continue focusing on further developing our equipment and technology, looking towards new and improved ways to help farmers and growers meet contract demands.
We’ll continue to innovate and progress our range, as we did in 2013 with the addition of the TPS-Pro Polisher and the Revolver Box Tipper, with Blue Inverter technology and HMI touch screens now offered across our range.
However, ultimately everything that we do is driven by how and where consumers choose to buy their potatoes, and this looks set to continue. So the more we can help our customers to handle their crops more gently, and process higher volumes more cost-effectively and efficiently, both in terms of energy consumption and ease of maintenance, the better.