Multiples were demanding ever higher standards, she told a European potato conference in Killarney last week. But such standards came at a cost - which was being borne almost entirely by the growers.
“It is critical that growers are properly rewarded for producing premium products,” said Coughlan, whose constituency of Donegal is one of Ireland’s main potato-producing counties. “If that doesn’t happen, the loss of growers from the sector will be further accelerated.”
Coughlan did not name those she felt had contributed to the number of growers falling from 1,700 to 730 in the past 10 years. But she said buying power was concentrated in the hands of five or six multiples, who controlled more than 75% of the market.
On the issue of declining public demand, the minister suggested that potatoes had an image problem and were losing out to more fashionable foods such as rice, pasta and quick-fix foods. While the average Irish household consumed 190kg of fresh potatoes last year, the trend was downward. Bord Bia research showed that people were buying fewer potatoes.
The industry had to tackle this image problem, she added, and actively promote the healthy qualities of the potato.