Most of us love fries and chips. Other than people on a ketogenic diet, most diets don’t discriminate against the mighty potato. It’s even in Canada’s newest food guide. Most dishes using potatoes are loved by Canadians, especially in the wintertime, when colder weather encourages us to seek out more hearty meals.
But reports suggest that North America is experiencing potato shortages and processors, and those in the West, are especially scrambling to get potatoes into their processing plants. This could spell trouble as we soon may be paying more for one of our favourite staples.
A cold and very wet fall has negatively impacted crop yields among potato farmers. Almost 20 per cent of potatoes were left out in fields due to poor quality. The United States Department of Agriculture is projecting a 6.1 per cent decline in total crops from a year ago, making it one of the lowest crop yields since 2010.
But it’s difficult to tell whether retail prices will be affected at all. The truth is that potato prices have already gone up this past year. Potatoes at retail are 20.7 per cent more expensive than just 12 months ago. According to Statistics Canada, a 10-pound bag of potatoes in Canada retails for an average of $9.77, while a year ago it was $8.11. Frozen fried potatoes have gone up 17.1 per cent as well, retailing now at $3.02 for one kilo.
These increases, the most important increases ever recorded, are difficult to explain. Potato production over the last five years in North America has been quite steady.
Since 2018, potato retail prices have quietly increased at a dramatic rate, but consumers have not yet been spooked by this – at least, not yet. But consumers could start walking away from the product if they think it’s too expensive. As such, we may see more processors reduce the number of frozen fries you get in a bag, but for the same price. It’s called shrinkflation, getting less for the same price. Skrinkflation has a funny way of keeping products on store shelves without upsetting consumers.
Canada is only the 18th largest potato producer in the world, but we do take our potatoes seriously. The country won’t run out of potatoes any time soon and they will remain quite affordable for most of us for a very long time. So, keep calm and eat your fries.