How potato processors can improve profitability and sustainability by using the latest steam peeling solutions

Peeling potatoes on potato processing lines can be a bit like peeling notes from a wad of dollar bills and then throwing them away. Because mechanized peel removal also removes potato flesh, a high quantity of saleable raw material gets discarded. This is lost value and margin for a business, and over time it adds up to sums of money that food processors cannot afford to lose.

Reducing food waste is one of the most important objectives of this generation. Processors, retailers and consumers increasingly focus on the origin of food and expect food producers to adopt sustainable business practices. Thankfully much of the product loss incurred during potato peeling is preventable, and this not only increases the utilization of the precious potato, but also enables food processors to produce high-quality flavoursome dishes.

Another important sustainability concern is energy use in production and associated greenhouse gas emissions. By increasing the yield from every piece of raw material entering the production process, businesses can operate for a shorter time to achieve the same required output, hence saving energy costs and water usage.

The good news is that automated solutions are available to address these issues. Solutions that are both environmentally friendly and commercially savvy enhance processors’ green credentials while also preventing waste from cutting away at the bottom line.

TOMRA Eco peeler
The TOMRA Eco peeler and TOMRA 5A sorters are installed in many of the world’s potato processing lines.

As the world changes, so must processors 

Though it has always made good business sense to eliminate waste, this necessity is now more important than ever because of the legislative and consumer led changes facing the food industry.

For one thing, demand for frozen potato products for foodservice is increasing, meaning that there’s greater pressure to increase volumes and throughputs, and more business for processors to win or lose. For example, the growth in production capacity of frozen French fries in new regions is growing each year rapidly, with each new processing line in China, Africa, and Brazil capable of delivering 150,000 tons each year.

Recently we have seen supply chain issues in North America resulting in shortages in Asia. Reducing food miles is another important challenge for the potato processing industry and challenges in logistics are discouraging businesses from shipping frozen products over long distances, meaning that new potato processing facilities are being built closer to local retailers.

For another, the consumer expectations of quality, flavor, and taste around the world are increasing. Consumers are getting fussier about the quality of the foods they buy, meaning that retailers are also becoming less tolerant of product imperfections.

Achieving high-quality potato products from locally grown raw materials becomes essential. Innovation in potato seed has resulted in producing a wider range of new potato varieties that are more resistant to drought and wet, which is necessary due to climate change. This has helped improve the raw material consistency and quality delivered to food processors, enabling them to improve their business and product quality. But this is only part of the solution. Technology and steam peeling solutions need to be adaptable to extract the maximum benefit of the available raw material.

As the world continues to change and adapt to challenges, we see that food processors need to install new lines incorporating the latest technical solutions. And aging lines will need to be replaced to ensure the business stays competitive and survives.

Increasing demand for quantity and quality

Potato processors might be tempted to dismiss market forces as something that only retailers need to worry about, but this would be a mistake: just as retailers must meet changes in consumer demand, so processors must meet the subsequent changes in retailer requirements. And those requirements are not only for greater quantities, but also for greater product quality and a responsible approach to sustainability. 

Potatoes are a staple food, of course, ranked fourth in global production after wheat, rice, and maize. But what’s changing goes beyond the simplicity of a humble vegetable that is satisfying to eat and provides an excellent source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins: the consumption of processed potato products is really gaining popularity.

This rising demand is propelled mostly by increasing economic prosperity in developing nations, where disposable incomes and busy lifestyles are popularizing western-style diets – including French fries as an accompaniment to food service, and convenience foods at home such as frozen potato wedges, slices, and dices. And there’s more to come. Market researchers expect the global frozen potato market to expand from a value of about $63bn in 2021 to about $84bn by 2028, equivalent to a compound annual growth rate of about 4%. That’s the kind of growth most other industries can only dream of.            

At the same time as buying more potato products, consumers’ expectations are increasing, and they refuse to accept bad quality food. One reason for this is that improvements in raw material, food sorting and food processing have set in motion a circle of growth in standards: as product quality improves, so the ‘new normal’ sets higher expectations. And add to that the power of social media: the tendency of customers to share experience of good and bad quality in equal measure online fuels additional pressure on businesses to protect their brand.

Yet another market pressure is the rising awareness among consumers of the need to be less wasteful of resources. The Global Sustainability Study 2021 (conducted by global strategy and pricing consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners) found that sustainability is rated as an important purchase criterion by 60% of consumers globally. An even greater proportion, 85%, have consciously made their purchasing choices’ greener’ in recent years.

All these factors mean that processors must reduce food waste, increase quantity, and improve quality. And though quantity and quality once seemed like mutually exclusive objectives – increasing one usually meant accepting a reduction in the other – this, too, has changed. Today’s state-of-the-art peeling technologies make it possible to simultaneously achieve big throughputs and high product quality.


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