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Feature Potatoes

Growth of French potato processors is unstoppable

June 11, 2024 - Niels van der Boom

French fry factories are popping up like mushrooms in Northern France. In the coming years, hundreds of thousands of extra tons of potato fries will be needed to feed all existing and new production lines. The Belgian Ecofrost started building a new factory in early June. McCain is also expanding significantly.

While Belgium may still be called the 'miracle of the European potato sector,' it is likely that France will soon take over the throne. The vast Northern French agricultural area still has plenty of opportunities for potato cultivation, and factories are eagerly seizing them. Some of these are Belgian companies, such as Clarebout and Ecofrost, making significant investments in France.

Doubling of processing
The ambitions of the French potato sector are substantial. According to GIPT - the representative body of French processors - the French fry production is expected to double in seven years. This means that potato processing, currently at 1.5 million tons, needs to double to 3 million tons. Part of the production increase also involves shifting volumes. Currently, one-third of all French potato fries are processed in other countries, mainly in Belgium.

The Belgian family-owned company Ecofrost from Péruwelz, located near the French border close to Valenciennes, officially laid the foundation stone at the end of May to start the construction of their new fry factory in Péronne. The new facility - where up to 400,000 potatoes will be processed annually - is just over an hour's drive from the main location in Belgium. Earlier this year, the Hoflack and Vervaeke families purchased the 13-hectare site where the former Flodor chips factory was located. They are collaborating with potato grower Matthieu Lenglet.

On 4.5 hectares, buildings will house two processing lines, capable of producing 200,000 tons of final product per year, as reported by the company. The frozen fries will be stored in a 1.5-hectare freezing warehouse, 35 meters high, where frozen vegetables will also be kept. The Northern French region can look forward to 450 new jobs.

McCain also invests
Just 70 kilometers to the north, competitor McCain is also making significant investments. The Canadian company has three factories in France, two of which are in the north. Over the next five years, it will invest €350 million to increase production capacity, aiming to process a quarter more potatoes. For the factory in Harnes, near the city of Lens, this means an additional 200,000 to 250,000 tons of potato fries are needed, according to director Maxime Debrye in local media.

Last fall, fry giant Clarebout opened the doors of their new factory in Dunkirk. Agristo has acquired an old sugar factory in Escaudoeuvres, where 300,000 tons of potatoes are expected to be processed in three years. The capacity of existing locations is also quietly expanding, with a fourth processing line being added to the factory in Wielsbeke. All these factories operate in the same region, putting even greater pressure on potato cultivation.

CompanyLocationAverage max. capacity/year
ClareboutDunkirk500.000 metric ton
EcofrostPéronne400.000 metric ton
AgristoEscaudoeuvres
300.000 metric ton
McCainHarnes
250.000 metric ton
Total
1,45 mln metric ton

Pressure on potato cultivation
Traditionally, Northern French agriculture has mainly focused on grains, sugar beets, and crops like flax. The potato for fries has now become indispensable. Farmers fear that they will be squeezed in their crop rotation as potato cultivation expands further. They also see a gradual decrease in yields, mainly due to increasingly challenging growing seasons. New varieties are required to meet these challenges, but practical implementation falls short.

Niels van der Boom

Niels van der Boom is a senior market specialist in potatoes and other soft commodities at DCA Market Intelligence.
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