Status: Married to Freda, two children: Hayley, 25 and Alex, 20

Age: 51

Born: Coatbridge

Hobbies: Racehorses. I own a few.

Business mantra: When you do something, do it well, and make sure you are happy with what you are delivering.

Best career decision: Taking the brand overseas. We’re in Europe and the US, and we have just opened an office in Abu Dhabi.

Best career advice: Be consistent. Whatever you promise, follow it through.

Business idol: If you look at what Walmart has achieved it’s pretty awesome, considering it started in the 1960s.

Favourite meal: Steak with a jacket potato.

How do you relax: By spending time with my family.

Favourite film: I loved The Wolf of Wall Street. It made me want to go out!

The benefits of being a family business: In a plc you are chasing numbers. You have to please the City and hit the numbers. And the way the world recession is, that creates extreme pressure. I don’t think it would suit me, but who knows? Never say never.

Best way to prepare a potato: Baked, untouched, with the skin. You get the full flavour then.

Potatoes are under pressure. Carb-hating dieters and carb alternatives like pasta mean the humble spud is beginning to lose out as a fixture on the dinner plate. Volume sales are down 3.7% year on year, according to the Potato Council.

For Ronnie Bartlett, MD of Albert Bartlett, the biggest potato supplier in the UK, the suggestion that spuds have had their chips should be cause for concern. But if it is, Bartlett isn’t showing it. In fact, he’s waxing lyrical.

“Potatoes are like wine,” he says, leaning back in his chair while two dogs scamper around his feet. “Some people like red wine, some people like white wine. Some people like Chardonnay, some like Sauvignon. We have to educate consumers to eat different potatoes for different meals to make this industry thrive.”

Without doubt, he’s putting his money where his mouth is. Bartlett has spent the “last 10 years” developing new varieties of potato (it currently offers 13 in the UK), and some are as drop-dead gorgeous as they are tasty.

For instance, there is the “two-toned” red-and-white spotted Apache, a favourite of multi-Michelin starred Albert Roux, or the Purple Majesty, a beetroot-coloured gem that attracts double takes in the aisles and packs a healthy punch of antioxidants, even if Bartlett admits that “people over 50 can’t understand it.”

No matter, he adds. “When they close their eyes they like the taste. And we do something different because people have been eating potatoes for 200 years and they take them for granted. As an industry, we have stood still. Pasta and rice is all about convenience and we have to communicate that consumers can cook our products in a fast and efficient way.”

“We have to educate consumers to eat different potatoes for different meals to make this industry thrive”

For those not handy with a sharp knife and a sautée pan, Bartlett points from his office window to where a new £60m frozen and chilled manufacturing facility, for both branded and own-label products, will start taking shape “early” next year, on the 400,000 sq ft site in Airdrie that Albert Bartlett moved to in 2003 to handle demand. Frozen looks like a smart move, according to the Potato Council, which says sales of frozen potato products are up 1.3%, thanks in part to a 1.9% rise in frozen chips. However, Albert Bartlett has been here before. It launched frozen chips and chilled mash in 2008 and 2009, but pulled the products in 2010. So what went wrong last time?

“Nothing went wrong,” says Bartlett. “We decided to concentrate on the fresh brand where we had complete control, and we will be launching our new offer with the same level of control.”

He does admit to some “nervousness” about the move, but says it’s a “calculated nervousness. We have created the brand, maybe the consumer will want to try it in another area of the supermarket. So we will do French fries and some chilled products. The world is changing and people don’t want to waste food. With frozen you can take what you want then put it back and have it the next day. If the market changes we have to change with it, and frozen is where the market is going.”

Albert Bartlett currently offers 13 varieties of potato in the UK, from the two-toned Apache to the red-skinned Rooster - the brand’s biggest selling line

If anyone understands the market, it’s Bartlett. And so he should: he’s been working in it for 34 years since he joined the family business at 15. His father and brother established the business in 1948, starting with beetroot and quickly moving into potatoes. In the late 1970s, Ronnie and his two brothers “started to get involved” and from the early 1980s “we started to run the business.”

To illustrate how far they have come, they had “2% or 3% of the Scottish market then. Now we are just under 25% of the UK market.” Along the way, Bartlett has been investing heavily in new technology and sustainable equipment, including on-site water recycling facilities and research and development, both to grow new varieties and breed ones that are more resistant to the haphazard British weather.

“For growers it’s very difficult. Costs are going up dramatically. And climatically in some areas it’s bad; other parts it’s good. So we have a spread of growers from Jersey to the Black Isle and we’ve been working with breeders, given them a lot of commitment and put a lot of money into it.”

“As an industry I don’t think we are investing enough in new facilities. No one is living for tomorrow”

How much? “Millions.” Can he be more specific? “I do know how much it is, but I’m not going to tell you,” he laughs. “We have spent lots of money. As an industry I don’t think we are investing enough in new facilities; that goes for everyone, whether it’s protein or vegetables. Everyone is living for today and no one is living for tomorrow. That’s not how I want to run my business. If it starts running like that then I don’t want to do it.”

Having said that, Bartlett says the UK is “light years ahead of other potato industries around the world”, which is a good place for the UK to be, as Bartlett says the increasing scarcity of water around the globe means previously untapped markets are looking to grow less rice and more potatoes, which demand less water. And they all want experts like Albert Bartlett to show them how it’s done.

For instance, in March, Albert Bartlett announced a deal with UAE-based Al Dahra National Investments to create Al Dahra Bartlett, a new company based in Abu Dhabi that will produce and distribute potato products in the Middle East and Africa. It will also distribute Albert Bartlett-branded products in the region. And Bartlett has his eye on other regions with similar issues, such as “the Far East, Asia, China, India, Pakistan…”

The newfound popularity of potatoes in far-flung parts of the globe brings our own fading affection for spuds sharply back into focus. Bartlett believes the industry hasn’t been helped by potatoes being ostracised by the 5 a day brigade. “We always look at the negatives. When I look at some of the products included in the recommended 5 a day, I can’t understand why potatoes aren’t. Potatoes are one of the best products you can eat, low in fat, rich in vitamins. We talk about how good fish is for you, but if you deep fry it in batter then it’s not so good. It’s the same with potatoes. It’s how you cook them.”

It’s a persuasive argument. Now he just needs to persuade consumers to cook potatoes more often, too.