With restaurants and bars shut under Belgium's lockdown, demand has fallen for frites, the beloved twice-fried fries that make up half of the acclaimed national dish, moules-frites (the former half being mussels). Belgapom, the country's potato industry body, has revealed that the frozen potato sector accounts for 75% of the processing industry.
As inventories back up and freezer capacity dwindles, Romain Cools, secretary general of Belgapom, reports to CNBC that around 750,000 tons of potatoes are unlikely to be processed.
“We’re working with supermarkets to see whether we can launch a campaign asking Belgians to do something for the sector by eating fries — especially frozen fries — twice a week during the coronavirus crisis,” Cools explained. “What we are trying to do is to avoid food waste, because every lost potato is a loss.”
Aside from encouraging public consumption of frozen fries, the group will be using the surplus potatoes to fill growing demands elsewhere. Belgapom announced that it will be sending 25 tons of potatoes every week to mitigate food bank shortages. They are also exporting produce to Central Europe and Africa, and turning leftovers into animal feed or biofuel.
Unfortunately, demand in the Belgian potato industry is not likely to pick up as easily in the coming months. Cools has said that Belgapom has "asked farmers not to plant that many potatoes for the next season because we believe this season will take some extra months away from next year by postponing processing.”
Belgium has been under lockdown since the 18 March. According to the government's plan to ease coronavirus restrictions, cafes and restaurants are to reopen on 8 June. But until then, the fries are staying at home.