Rufus Pilgrim  -  The future of the UK Potato Industry - Learnings from successful supply models

AHDB Potatoes

I live in Lincolnshire, and started working in the Potato industry in 1993. I am the Commercial Director, responsible for the fresh potato division, of R S Cockerill in York; supplying the discount retailers and foodservice sector. In addition, the business are long standing suppliers to Pepsico; Walkers Crisps in the UK. We are a long established, privately owned company that has grown considerably in recent years. Both sectors of the business are involved in managing all aspects of the potato supply chain; from innovation, through seed sourcing, storage, added value processes and logistics. On top of this, we grow potatoes ourselves in the Vale of York.

While at Shuttleworth Agricultural College, I developed an interest in root crop production, and potatoes especially. Then as now, I’m still fascinated by the breadth, challenges and diversity of the potato industry. I started out as a Fieldsman in Lincolnshire, eventually progressing to be a Procurement Manager, buying potatoes throughout the UK, and from abroad. Most of my career has been spent on the supply side, but my roles have diversified in recent years, getting more involved in operational aspects, innovation and new business development. Acquiring these skills has culminated in the commercial role I hold now, and I want to develop them further. I am passionate about this industry, and want to examine the issues that determine its future in a much wider context.

Outside work, I’m married to Helen, and have two girls; Lucy and Abbie. I enjoy spending time with them, helping them to pursue their interests; mainly as their taxi driver! Until recently, I was Chairman of the local school Governing body, getting involved in merging it with a neighbouring village school to secure its future. The rest of my spare time is spent trying to maintain a modest level of fitness by cycling and running.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the AHDB for their generosity in sponsoring my Nuffield Scholarship.

  • Project Details

The term ‘sustainability’ is widely used in agriculture at the moment. In reality, it could be construed as maintaining the status quo, but this situation invariably doesn’t allow for opportunities for development and growth. With domestic consumption at best static, but the growing area declining at a pace, growers are looking to reduce risk, and consider less capital intensive, alternative enterprises. Market forces will inevitably come into play, but I want to look at what influences can be brought to bear to avert this, looking at:

  • Developing the market; encouraging consumption through innovation and marketing.
  • The opportunity cost of not adapting our supply chains to meet a changing market place.
  • The potential effects of competitor activity.
  • Suggesting alternative supply chain models for UK producers and suppliers, while still remaining competitive.

I will begin by looking at the strengths, as well as the threats to domestic production. Considering what measures have already been taken; consolidation, own account value adding, examples of vertical integration, but mindful that the industry is still reliant on individual producers to a greater extent. When looking at organisations abroad, my focus will be on:

  • How others have developed their markets.
  • Researching the most cost effective production models.
  • Investigate examples of co-operation and consolidation within the industry.
  • Ensuring security of supply to the added value sector.
  • The effects of economies of scale.
  • Simplification of supply chains, and the relationships that occur between the constituent parts.
  • Maintaining a competitive offering to the consumer.

I intend to travel to:

  • Northern and Eastern Europe to compare production systems.
  • Look at the economies of scale that come out of production in the United States.
  • Adapting to a free market, and building export opportunities into it, in New Zealand.
  • Look at developing markets in Asia for future growth.