The unthinkable has happened the Irish have fallen out of love with the potato.

Sales of fresh potatoes in the Republic of Ireland have tumbled 11.3% in value and 12% in volume over the last quarter [TNS 12 w/e 14 June 09]. Year-on-year sales data shows an even sharper decline of 19% by value and 18.4% by volume [TNS 52w/e 14 June 09].

"People would never think that the Irish potato category would be in decline, but it has been for a number of years now," said Bord Bia Horticulture Division business analyst Lorcan Bourke.

Shoppers were buying smaller packs and purchasing them less frequently, he said. They were also switching to other staples perceived more convenient and quicker-to-cook such as rice and pasta products, as the traditional potato-rich Irish diet became more internationalised.

Another reason potatoes were falling out of favour in Ireland was that people tended to use a limited number of cooking methods, he said. While the English were now used to microwaving potatoes, the Irish tradition was still to boil them, said Bourke.

The industry could improve potatoes' appeal by providing recipes that could be cooked in five to 10 minutes and highlighting the versatility of the vegetable, he suggested. "It doesn't have to be a 45-minute job," he said.

Bord Bia is undertaking work to encourage greater consumption of potatoes among Irish consumers. Shoppers were generally unaware of the price benefits of potatoes over rice and pasta, said Bourke.

"People tend to forget on a per kilogramme basis they're much better value that's the message the industry needs to get across," he said.

The fall in popularity of potatoes comes at a time of an alarming drop in sales in the fresh produce category in Ireland, Values slipped 5.7% and volumes 3.1% over the 12 weeks to 14 June.

High promotional levels have been blamed for the poor figures, with fruit sales performing particularly badly.