Chipocalypse – the story behind the alleged potato shortage
On Saturday October 14 Angela Meyer visited her local Pak’nSave to purchase groceries.
As she leaned forward to grab her favourite pack of potato crisps there was a void – and in its place a sign that read: “Due to a Nationwide Potato shortage, we will be having trouble stocking Potato Chips. This will likely last until the New Year.”
She posted a picture of this sign on Twitter, and because there was no news because Winston was still deciding which party to go with, the tweet went viral. Suddenly the phones at Potatoes New Zealand were ringing with media enquiring about a national potato shortage. Chief executive Chris Claridge was bombarded with media interview requests.
Chris explained that potato supplies were down, but it was the crisping potatoes that were in the greatest shortage. At this time it became clear that whilst most people were aware that the record rain levels had reduced vegetable crop yields, few understood the difference between crisping potatoes and fresh (table) potatoes.
The good news to come out of this is that it’s clear potato crisps are still New Zealand’s favourite snack and something New Zealanders view as a part of our culinary culture.
Once public understanding of the difference between crisping potatoes and fresh potatoes grew, people were able to relax in the knowledge they would have fresh new season potatoes to enjoy over summer and with the Christmas dinner.
The media then started investigating which crisps, from which outlets, would be most affected by the perceived potato shortage. The majority of crisps produced in New Zealand are made from crisping potato varieties, but other producers make their crisps from fresh potato varieties (such as Agria).
At this point of scrutiny the questions was re-asked as to whether there was a potato shortage or not. By this stage ‘Chipocalypse’ was trending on social media and Potatoes New Zealand was experiencing record levels of social media engagement, particularly through Chris Claridge’s Twitter account (@ClaridgeChris).
Media enquiries were coming from across the ditch in Australia, then the United Kingdom (The Guardian newspaper and the BBC), from America (Los Angeles Times) and even Slovenia! When all was said and done Chris had completed 17 media interviews and eight live interviews.
To get a more in-depth overview of the issue, please take eight minutes out of your day to listen to the insightful interview on Radio Live. Just open your web browser and type in http:// bit.ly/PotatoShortage and you’ll be redirected to the webpage with the audio clip of the interview.
So what does this mean to growers and the wider industry? Well it’s all too easy to point the finger of blame, but nobody can control the weather. While potatoes are grown across the country, the worst hit areas are Horowhenua, Matamata and Pukekohe because of a 25% increase in rainfall. The paddocks haven’t dried out so growers can’t harvest the crop or prepare for planting.
The good news to come out of this is that it’s clear potato crisps are still New Zealand’s favourite snack and something New Zealanders view as a part of our culinary culture. So don’t expect demand for crisps to dry up anytime soon.
Thank you to all the growers out there, especially those who have been rigging up lighting solutions to allow them to work through the night to get potatoes lifted and new seed potatoes planted.
To support New Zealand growers, make sure you look for the New Zealand made sign and details on the packets when you next purchase crisps.