Irish potatoes seek to ease selenium famine

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Potato, Retailing

Selenium-enriched potatoes are being sold on the Irish market despite the company behind the product admitting the Irish population knew next to nothing about the mineral and may resent paying a premium given the economic slump, which so far has hit Ireland harder than most EU economies.

The potatoes have been on-market in Ireland for about three weeks and are enriched with 14g of selenium per 100g. They retail at €2 per kilogramme, compared to €1.67 for regular potatoes – a premium of about 20 per cent, partly due to the box the potatoes come in.

“The packaging was very expensive but we needed to differentiate the product from regular potatoes,”​ Peter Keogh & Sons’ general manager, Tom Keogh, told NutraIngredients.com this morning, adding regular potatoes contained only 0.2mg selenium.

While selenium potatoes have been on-market and achieved niche-level sales in Australia and Italy for many years, Keogh frankly acknowledged there were many challenges to overcome if the product was to be a success in Ireland, despite the fact 20 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women don’t attain the recommended daily dose of 55mg.

“It will be difficult to convince consumers to spend more on potatoes in the current climate,”​ he said. “Coupled with that consumer awareness of selenium is low. But we are engaging in PR and have had some great coverage for the product in national newspapers so we are confident in the product.”

A website has been established called www.selena.ie​ where Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) claims can be found including references to liver, heart, muscles, growth, reproduction and cancer protection.

The claims have not as yet been submitted to the EU nutrition and health claims process.

Initially the potatoes, called Selena, are available in an up-market retail supermarket chain called Superquinn.

Like many agriculture-intensive countries, Ireland has low-levels of selenium in its soils due to agronomical practices. Finland in the 1980s countered this with a government-backed scheme to enrich the soil with selenium.

New Nutrition Business ​magazine noted selenium-enriched foods had rarely encountered success with a potato product being withdrawn by UK retailer, Sainsbury’s, and a bread knocked on the head by Waitrose.

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