Cheap as chips? Not any more as potato prices grow by 250%
The humble spud may be poised to become a luxury ingredient after horrendous harvests last year destroyed stocks, it has been warned.
Wholesale prices have rocketed to two-and-a-half times what they were this time last year and local potato supplies have virtually run out with 12 weeks to go until the new season, according to Ian McBride of Eagle Hill Potato Marketing in Donaghadee.
Meanwhile, chip shops are struggling to keep prices low as the price of potatoes rises sharply, and some have been forced out of business.
Mr McBride warned that with many growers now thinking about switching to other crops after last season's poor harvest and this spring's bad weather, prices are unlikely to fall in the short to medium term.
"Local potatoes are all but finished and there are another 12 weeks to go till next season," he said.
"The price at the moment is around two-and-a-half times more than this time last year. With Pinks and Rooster fetching over £600 a tonne, that's even more than a 250% increase.
"We are doing our best to help our customers by carrying extra stock and holding our price for as long as possible."
Mr McBride said fish and chip shops have been the worst hit by the rising prices as they feel they can't put extra pressure on customers by putting prices up.
"The price of a portion of chips isn't reflecting that rise but it's come to a stage where they are going to have to raise it," he said.
"All their prices are going up – wheat prices are going up so burger baps have been pushed up, packaging is up, energy costs are up. You could be looking at 30-40p increase on a portion of chips."
Isle of Ely Produce, one of the major UK suppliers of Eagle Hill, said poor weather conditions have caused the UK's potato stocks to drop by almost 20% year on year.
Director John Boutwood said: "2012 was a challenging growing season, with exceptional weather conditions impacting on the GB crop's size and quality.
"With supplies of UK potatoes remaining low, we may also be forced to source more from abroad at greater cost.
"However, even these stocks are running low. The crops abroad have been affected, too. And also the quality is not always consistent, so whereas you could get great quality one week, the next one might not be so great."
Trevor McBride has owned the Golden Chip in Dundonald for 18 years. He estimates that potatoes cost around £11 a bag now, compared to about £6 last year.
He said he has been forced to bring in expensive Cyprus and Spanish potatoes before but it was always for a short period. "It has dragged out so much now," he said.
"It is very, very difficult to get the profit margin – we feel we can't pass on the cost to the customers. The saying goes 'cheap as chips', and we don't want to change that.
"Some of the chip shops have even closed down.
"We've trimmed every other side of the business that we possibly can to try to ride the storm out."