The retail market for potatoes was worth about £1bn and over the last 12 months, the value of total sales had risen by 4pc or £44m, said Sapna Sejpal, consumer insight director for Kantar World Panel.
It tracked the precise buying habits of 25,000 households, which matched the country’s population, and a further 5,000 would be recruited to the panel at the end of the year.
“These panellists record their take-home purchases, so we know exactly what they’re buying from their retailers and in what sector.
From that we can analysis how the retailers are performing,” she added.
The total grocery market grew by 3.8pc in the latest year, below the rate of inflation. There were marked signs that consumers were trading down and opting for cheaper products in store.
In the potato sector, she noted that total volumes of purchases had fallen by 2pc but there were some significant changes taking place in buying habits. Obviously, the consumers’ love of a bargain was driving some sectors, especially when retailers ran deeply discounted promotions.
Ms Sejpal told about 100 farmers at Fenmarc’s Hope Farm, Southery, near Downham Market, that the potato sector had an opportunity in the longer term to appeal to younger consumers. Typically, buyers of “conventional” potatoes were 45 years or older and were loyal purchasers but “prepared” product purchasers were more upmarket and younger.
“We found that 44pc of shoppers are willing to purchase prepared potato products,” she added. These typically included fresh mash, new potatoes with garlic and peeled and sales had risen by six per cent to £97m.
Also, sales of varieties of “new” potatoes had risen three per cent year on year. “We have seen growth in new potatoes with the likes of Charlotte, worth £58m, growing at 18pc, driven by Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
In total sales, frozen potato products were worth £362m and chilled, another sector performing well had increased to £97m. However, there were declines in frozen roast products, instant mashed potatoes, £13m and canned, worth £11m a year.
“What we are seeing in potatoes and actually the key driver is the increase in the average price paid. Retailers are actually slowing their promotional activity. Last year, 40pc of potatoes by volume were sold under promotions, which fell to 37pc this year.
“The key thing we have seen is shoppers switching away from standard into premium and economy and branded in the most recent year.
For example, Rooster sales were worth £48.8m, which had in the past two years, doubled in size from £28m to £36m. “Rooster is not only attracting shoppers but also getting them to spend more a year, now £6.83. “But we need to bear in mind for Rooster that 55pc is sold on promotion. And if these promotions are not sustained, there will be a different picture next year.”
She noted the so-called “two nations effect” with the success of key discounters, Aldi and Lidl, and also the remarkable performance of Waitrose, with sales up 7.9pc. In terms of the top four retailers, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, up 3.8pc were the only ones out of the top four to out-perform, she said.
In the prepared vegetable sector, worth £200m, sales were also growing strongly at 8pc in value with shoppers opting for the convenience of trimmed Brussels sprouts.
Retail sales of carrots, which had grown in value by 2pc but declined in volume by 3pc, were worth £257m and accounted for 316m kg. Parsnips sales were estimated at £63m and totalled 44m kg but had struggled last year.