French Fries

Imported French fries – a hot potato topic for the SA economy

Potatoes South Africa (PSA) has recently turned to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries, as well as the Minister of Trade & Industry, in order to address the influx of frozen French fries into South Africa.

The local potato processing industry finds itself in a crisis situation, to a sharp increase in the importation of frozen French fries, from Europe. With every role player in the potato value chain adversely affected, PSA is appealing to government for urgent intervention in creating a sustainable environment for the potato processing industry.

The volume of frozen French fry imports has surged from a level of 15,460 tons in 2009; peaking during 2010 at 46,903 tons, and then leveling at 30,054 tons last year (2011).

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Of the 650 commercial potato producers in SA; more than 100 produce potatoes, under contract, for the processing industry. Says PSA Marketing Manager, Etienne Booyens, “Total local annual production (of French fries) is estimated at around 120,000 tons. However, the actual market size is close to 150,000 tons. The 2010 level of French fry imports equates to 82,000 tons of locally produced (raw) potatoes, as replaced by these ingresses. In real terms: Close to a third of French fries consumed locally.”

The usage of locally produced potatoes for manufacturing processed potato products is estimated at 435,000 tons, of which, 58 percent is used for producing French fries. Adds Booyens: “With a labour multiplier of close to 1.2 workers per hectare, and over 9,500 hectares planted for the processing industry; we are looking at more than 11,400 workers being affected.”

The three largest producers of frozen French fries in South Africa jointly employ approximately 1,060 workers in their factories alone. “Furthermore, it is of paramount importance that the internal, as well as external jobs created by the industry, are also taken into serious consideration.”