According to EastFruit analysts, only about 5% of the potatoes consumed in Ukraine were sold in 2019 by retailers. Only a little more than half of them were sold in supermarket chains. The rest of the potatoes are sold in markets and at uncontrolled sales outlets, produced by consumers or their relatives and are not traded. For comparison, retail chains sell up to half of all bananas consumed in Ukraine.
Fedir Rybalko, an international consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), disclosed this data from the first study of retail trade in fresh fruit and vegetables during the First International Retail Forum. It was held within the #FTrade Club 2021 in Kyiv in early December 2021.
“Potatoes are the leader in sales in volume, but they did not even make it to the TOP-5 products in terms of revenue, despite the high price level. On the contrary, bananas became first in terms of sales revenue”, – Fedir Rybalko says.
Why do consumers prefer to buy potatoes in uncomfortable conditions of uncontrolled trade, and not in supermarket chains?
Andriy Yarmak, economist at the Investment Centre of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), believes that it is the supermarket chains who are to be blamed for this. “Obviously, the management of supermarket chains that does not care about such a basic product as potatoes does not realize that they lead to the loss of billions in revenue. Consumers, seeing something dirty and low-quality instead of potatoes on the shelf, go to the market in search of a quality product. We have seen this many times – the prices for potatoes in the markets of Ukraine are always much higher than in supermarkets. So, consumers even in such a poor country as Ukraine, are frightened off not by the price, but by the quality of potatoes in supermarket chains. They are ready to go to the market, waste their time and pay more for better, cleaner and sorted potatoes! ” – says the FAO expert.
The expert notes that dirty potatoes in supermarkets in Ukraine do not even meet the basic state product safety standards, not to mention international ones. The supermarket chains in Russia have abandoned dirty potatoes on the shelves more than 10 years ago, which led to the dynamic development of local production. Therefore, Ukraine has imported potatoes from Russia in recent years.
According to Andriy Yarmak, it is the low quality of potatoes in Ukraine that is the main reason for the periodic collapses in their prices and the unprofitability of growing, alternating with periods of massive imports. In his high-profile blog, he even gives detailed calculations of how many billions both supermarkets and potato growers are losing due to careless approach to potato quality management.
“Obviously, it is the supermarkets that should take the first important step – ban substandard and dirty potatoes on the shelves. I am sure that they will increase potato sales. Moreover, the average bill in the chain as a whole will increase, as buyers will no longer go to the markets for high-quality potatoes. Potato growers will have to improve the quality, since most of potato quality problems occur in the field during cultivation, and even earlier – because of the poor quality of seed potatoes,” Andriy Yarmak says.
We often hear Ukrainian farmers saying that it is too expensive and difficult to grow export-grade potatoes. However, they pay for it with multibillion-dollar losses during seasons of overproduction, as in the current season of 2021/22. After all, Ukrainian potatoes cannot be exported almost anywhere because they do not meet the minimum quality standards.
Thomas Carpenter, a potato grower from Ireland, confirmed the information about the difficulties of growing high-quality potatoes at the largest fruit and vegetable conference “Fruits and Vegetables of Ukraine 2021”. His experience in growing potatoes in Ukraine and the defect rates he obtained on Ukrainian fields compared to what his Ukrainian colleagues receive were a revelation for many.
“Ukraine can and should grow and export quality potatoes,” Thomas Carpenter said during his presentation. EastFruit experts are confident that when the quality of potatoes improves, their share in the sales in supermarket chains in Ukraine will also grow.
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