"Knowledge and expertise we can share"
McCain Foods Ltd is the world's largest producer of frozen potato products, most of them french fries destined for restaurants, fast food and retail chains around the globe. Bertrand Delannoy, who joined the company in 1989 as an agronomist, is now Director of Public Affairs and Sustainability for McCain Continental Europe.
Among private sector companies, McCain has been the strongest donor to the International Year. Why did McCain decide to back IYP?
"McCain has been in the potato business now for more than half a century, starting from a small factory in Florenceville, New Brunswick, and expanding since then, first to North America, Europe, and Australasia, and since the mid-1990s to Latin America, South Africa and Asia. Today we operate in 130 countries and have 57 production sites on five continents. But for us the potato is more than simply business. We share the UN Millennium Development Goals, and we saw IYP as an opportunity to help educate the world about the nutritional value of potatoes and about key issues in fighting hunger and poverty – sustainability, delivering nutritious and affordable food, strengthening farming capabilities in developing countries, and collaboration in development of new varieties. McCain has a global presence that can reach the world's hungry, with knowledge and expertise we can share."
McCain provided funding for the activities of IYP national committees in 14 developing countries. What do you hope your support will achieve?
"The committees aim at bringing together the entire community of stakeholders – farmers, public and private sectors, NGOs, civil society and scientific institutions – in promoting the potato, increasing potato production and adding value. They are catalysts for national potato development programmes in the future. We are proud that the support McCain provided has gone into IYP information campaigns in Turkey, South Africa and Rwanda, the preparation of a potato development strategy in Côte d'Ivoire and a study of potato trends in China, and Peru's first national potato congress. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the national committee is now working with an ongoing partnership McCain has built up with local institutions in Kinshasa to promote good practices in per-urban potato farming. We hope to see the benefits of that collaboration in the years ahead."
Potato production and consumption is expanding strongly in the developing world. What is McCain's strategy for entering those emerging markets?
"McCain is expanding its business in the developing world . Our strategy is, first, to assess the local potato platform – factors such as farming practices and upstream logistics, including storage. It is also important to us to create a direct, long-term 'win-win' relationship with our growers. Sometimes we acquire existing processing plants, such as in South Africa, or we develop 'green sites', from scratch, as we did in Argentina. When we started in Argentina, farmers were still harvesting by hand. We introduced modern production techniques and since then we have seen double-digit growth, thanks largely to exports to the big Brazilian market. In India, we recently opened a new processing plant in Gujarat State that draws on a network of contract farmers whom we train in improved practices, such as use of drip irrigation, which reduces growing costs, and high temperature potato storage, which means big savings in power. In China, we are in a learning process, with the huge opportunity of growing, processing and distributing our products in what promises to be the world's biggest market."
Your core business is potatoes. How do you respond to criticism that potatoes, particularly as french fries, are responsible for overweight and poor nutrition?
"Potatoes are among the most efficient sources of energy and nutrients, with a higher content of Vitamins A and C and other micronutrients when compared to rice or maize tortillas. It also has some of the highest levels of potassium which have very positive benefits for heart health. So it is an essential part of a healthy diet. But at McCain we are committed to continually improving the nutritional profile of our products to meet consumer needs and concerns. For example, we changed all of our cooking oils worldwide to virtually eliminate trans fat and reduced our overall saturated fats to levels well below WHO guidelines. In mature markets, such as Europe, we are developing non-fried solutions, with significant diversification toward oven and pan products. In South Africa, where logistics can be a problem, we also aim at producing and distributing dried potato product solutions, enriched with macro and micro nutrients, which are cheaper to distribute and also contribute to an affordable and nutritious meal for low-income consumers."