Potatoes in Canada

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“French fries feed farmers” campaign: Industry stepped in to help growers during COVID-19 pandemic

July 9, 2020  By  Stephanie Gordon

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCain Foods stepped in to help potato growers by releasing a video encouraging Canadians to eat more french fries.

While COVID-19 impacted all businesses, Canadian potato growers were some of the hardest hit as they struggled with an unprecedented surplus of processing potatoes as a direct result of restaurant closures and reduced operating capacity. At the height of the pandemic, uncertainty was the norm and cuts in processing contracts were struck.

The Canadian government stepped in to help offer relief, including creating a $50-million surplus food rescue program and the Canadian Emergency Business Account to help with cashflow. Prince Edward Island even stepped in with $4.7 million of provincial funding to save 40 million kilograms of Island potatoes. Despite the government’s programs, McCain Foods stated in a release that “the private sector has an important role to play.”

“More specifically, McCain Foods strongly believes that action must be taken to support its partners, especially the potato growers who have given so much and represent a vital link in McCain Foods business and value chain,” the company explained in a release.

In response, McCain Foods put out several initiatives in place “to show its deep-rooted commitment” to its 130 potato growers across Canada. The French Fries Feed Farmers campaign is a 38-second video designed for social media highlighting one main message: eat more fries.

Throughout the video, several potato farmers take turns sharing the situation they’re faced with. “We planted them, we cared for them, we harvested them, now they’re just sitting,” the video goes, showing the impact of the potato surplus on Canadian farmers. The video ends asking viewers to “Support your Canadian farmers” and “Eat more french fries Canada.”

The company released the video on May 26, and it quickly garnered tons of social media attention. “Whether they come from the grocery store, or your favourite restaurant, committing to eating more fries is a small act that can have a significant impact on Canadian farm families,” McCain Foods added, explaining how significant the simple message can be.

In addition to promoting french fries, the potato industry helped out Canada – and its growers – in other ways too. McCain Foods also announced a donation of up to 20 million pounds of potato products to support Food Banks Canada, Second Harvest and other local food security organizations across the country. McDonald’s Canada announced Fries For Good, where a portion of the proceeds from all fries sold during May 8 until May 21 went toward the Canadian Red Cross. The P.E.I. Potato Board and provincial government handed out free care packages to Islanders several times throughout the pandemic that included local dairy products and potatoes. McCain Foods also hosted “Free Fry Days” where thousands of bags of fries were given away and money was raised for various local charities across Alberta and Manitoba and where several of these events took place. This is just the tip of the iceberg of initiatives taken by industry to decrease the surplus of potatoes.

The United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC) estimated that Canadian potato acreage could be down almost 15,000 acres, mostly due to cuts in processing contracts. However, seed and fresh acres are stable, while chip acres have slightly increased.

Now, as provinces open up again, processors are re-evaluating their supplies as demand starts to slowly increase again, but it’s too late to add more acres to the 2020 growing season. Many growers sold extra supply to dehydrated or livestock feed markets, so 2019 stock isn’t as high as it could’ve been either.

The good news is that the 2019 crop will be used, but it’s bittersweet for the acres already cut. A good crop will be needed so processors can make up for the decreased acres.

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