Growers in Jersey have been investing in new facilities as they look to get Jersey Royals to UK retailers quicker and in better condition than ever before, says Michael Barker

Summer has arrived, which, for spud lovers, means only one thing – Jersey Royals. Following two difficult seasons, Jersey Royal sales are on the rise – although suppliers’ and retailers’ profits are being eroded by relentless supermarket price promotions, leaving shoppers as the big winners.

The good news is that this year’s crop is looking better than ever, following major investment on the island. The two biggest producers, The Jersey Royal Company and Albert Bartlett, have both ploughed millions of pounds into creating new packing facilities, with the aim of improving efficiency and profitability, and getting product to stores quicker and in better condition than before.

The Jersey Royal Company has spent £4m on upgrading facilities and adding shed space, with further investment in washing and packing equipment planned, while Alfred Bartlett has put an estimated £10m into a packhouse extension that opened last month. Key to the investment has been the replacement of the outdated practice of sending product to the UK to be washed and packed, which is now done on the island instead.

The strategy appears to be working. As of 30 May, some 17,242 tonnes of the potatoes had been shipped, a 9% increase on the same time last year, with quality reported to be outstanding. Growers are also confidently predicting that last season’s £24m in sales will be surpassed. The industry has inadvertently benefited from the failure of the island’s tomato industry. With the Jersey Produce Marketing Organisation going under last year and taking with it all the island’s remaining tomato exports, a number of glasshouses used to grow the salad crop have been freed up for use in Jersey Royal production.

Fortunately, demand has risen to accommodate the additional supply. One supermarket buyer reported record demand this season, with sales up 40% by volume compared with 2008.

“The investment has made a huge difference in terms of quality in store and the whole offer,” he adds. “The freshness and the look of the product have been great and this year has put Jersey Royals back on the map after two tough seasons.”

Investment on the island was long overdue, says Tim Ward, general manager for Jersey at Sainsbury's, Somerfield and Booths supplier Albert Bartlett. He claims Bartlett’s new facility has taken two to three days out of the supply chain now that potatoes are washed and packed in Jersey, which has also reduced the company’s waste and carbon footprint. The drive for packing at source is also the focus for investment at the Jersey Royal Company, which supplies most of the multiples.

“Both companies were keen to deliver a finished product to depot,” says William Church, commercial manager. With so much going in their favour, sources say retailers need to find a way of scaling back promotions next season if buyers and producers are to make the margins expected of a premium crop.