Belgians Log Record Potato Processing Figures, Investment

The potato processing industry in Belgium recorded another record year in 2017, according to Belgapom, the country’s Berlare-based potato trade and production association. According to the latest statistics, Belgium remained by far the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world, with 2.2 million tons shipped last year.

DBelgapom logouring the past few years, the Belgian potato industry has developed into one of the fastest growing sectors in the Belgian food business. Partly due to significant investment in capacity and quality, this trend continued in 2017, as 4.57 million tons of tubers (+ 3.6 %) were processed into fries, crisps, croquettes, flakes, granules and other potato products.

Noticeable in 2017 was an exceptional increase in products other than fries (including crisps, croquettes, mash and flakes), which increased in volume from 468,513 to 690,159 tons (+ 47.5%).

Output of frozen and fresh fries rose from 1.91 million to 1.99 million tons (+ 4.3%), however, production of chilled fries fell by 3.5 %.

The 5.11 million ton harvest of spuds during the 2017-18 season, a record crop for Belgium, was attributed to an increase in planted area, choice of varieties and weather conditions. The figures published by Belgapom relate to the calendar year of 2017, which spans two potato seasons (2016-17 and 2017-18).

Boosting optimism in the sector is the fact that more than €305 million was invested in the potato processing business in 2017, while employment expanded by 7.1 %.

Overseas Promotion

On the eve of National Day celebrations on July 21, 2017, “Frietkot Culture” was officially recognized as an intangible part of the country’s cultural heritage. On that occasion, Prince Laurent of Belgium granted the mandate of “Ambassador of the Belgian Frietkot Culture Abroad” to James Bint, the popular James Bond-like cartoon character with a “license to fry.”

james Bint introLast year, the figure of James Bint was used to start the promotion “Belgian Fries, From the Heart of Europe” campaign in Southeast Asia. By participating in trade fairs and press events, Belgian fry producers demonstrated the authenticity and quality of their products in this fast-growing market of 557 million consumers.

The promotion, with the support of the European Commission, is being carried out by VLAM in cooperation with APAQ-W, FIT and AWEX, and will continue in 2018 and 2019. There are special activities planned in the near future in Singapore, Manila, Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

During of week of May 9-15 “Real Belgian Fries” tasting events will take place at the Central World Bangkok, one of the largest shopping centers in the world. On the weekend of May 11-13 Eddy Cooremans, the well-known frietkot (fry shop) manager, will demonstrate how to properly fry potatoes. In addition, a real-life James Bint will provide entertainment with text balloons.

Increasing Protectionism

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Belgapom reports that fries and other value-added potato product exports from Belgian and other European suppliers to South America are at risk of “becoming the victim of protectionist reflexes that threaten international trade.”

The trade association explained its concern as follows:

“After unjustified anti-dumping measures by the Brazilian government (the legal complaint against this by European companies is still pending), a decision by the Colombian government is soon also expected about a similar case. The dossier resembles a Swiss cheese with just as many holes (which was also confirmed by the European Commission), but a negative decision here can still lead to unjustified import levies. Unfortunately, these dossiers have also got other South American countries thinking about making use of this procedure, even if there is no reason to do so at all.”

Belgapom and the European federation EUPPA have urged the European Commission to increase pressure to end such practices, where, it says, "apparently there is no hesitation in falsifying a dossier even during the process.”