As the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel the food industry amid government lockdowns, Belgians are being asked to lend a hand to one struggling market in particular: Potatoes. More specifically, Belgians are being called upon to eat a ton of fries.
The Brussels Times reported last week that potato farmers were starting down a surplus of roughly 750,000 tonnes of taters over lockdown measures instituted in March to help curb the spread of covid-19. With businesses closed and restaurants open only for takeaway orders, demand for potatoes—namely, frites typically served in restaurant or bar settings—has dropped significantly. In order to prevent excessive waste, Belgians are being asked to consume frozen frites at least twice a week at home, Romain Cools, the secretary-general of Belgian potato trade association Belgapom, told the Associated Press this week.
“Traditionally, Belgians eat fries once a week, and it’s always a festive moment,” Cools said. But because consumption has sunk considerably during the country’s lockdown, Cools said the industry could lose as much as 125 million euros ($208 million). The Associated Press reported that the country’s lockdown order could be lifted as soon as the coming weekend, but non-takeaway restaurants will not be able to reopen their doors just yet.
As part of its initiative to prevent food waste, Belgapom has also committed to donating 25 tonnes of potatoes per week to food banks through the end of May and potentially longer. The potatoes are also being exported to regions with shortages like Central Europe and Africa, and what’s leftover may be used for biofuel or animal feed. But Cools told CNBC in an interview that those initiatives can be costly.
“It won’t be over for sure until we have a vaccination program running, and that may not be until the beginning of next year,” Cools told the outlet.
It’s difficult to know how the coronavirus pandemic will impact industries and the economy in the long term, particularly in the event of a second wave. In the meantime, however, a directive to eat more delicious fries isn’t all bad.