Interview with Agrarfrost Managing Director Manfred Wulf
The company’s roots date back to 1967 when founder Reinhold Stöver started processing his own potato crops and producing french fries in the rural heartland of northern Germany. Five years later the Agrarfrost brand was launched in the retail food sector, and the Wildeshausen/Aldrup-headquartered frozen potato specialist’s product line has been growing ever since.
When it comes to creativity and innovation, there is certainly no shortage of ideas among members of the Agrarfrost team. This applies to its agricultural engineers and network of farmers as well as factory workers, office support staff, warehousing and logistics crews, marketing and sales departments, and other personnel.
Providing an update on the ever-evolving company, Managing Director Manfred Wulf responded to a number of questions about the state of the industry in general and Agrarfrost activities in particular. His keen observations follow:
What has been the main trend in the frozen potato market over the past year?
The frozen potato market managed to remain at a constantly high level in 2015. Seen from the long-term perspective, the frozen potato product (FPP) segment has made an excellent performance. Sales of french fries have increased almost 30% since 1990 – and there’s no end to this trend in sight. This is due to the fact that on the one hand consumers do very much appreciate the ease that deep-frozen convenience products bring to their day-to-day life, while on the other hand the quality aspect is becoming more and more important. Both aspects will continue to gain relevance in the future.
Enjoying natural food and products made by using high-quality, next-to-natural ingredients are right at the top of the shopping lists of consumers everywhere. The consumer’s wish for good flavour and products from sustainable sources made from regionally sourced raw material is constantly growing. Our frozen potato products are right in line with the current trends. On the one hand, we use only locally grown potatoes to make our frozen potato products, a feature that we clearly communicate to the consumer on our packages. At the same time, in line with our “clean label” concept we process entirely without artificial flavor enhancers, coloring agents, or flavor additives in manufacturing our products – thus meeting the consumers’ demand for high-quality, next-to-natural ingredients. We love nature and identify ourselves with our native region. Sustainable production operations and the sparing management of our resources – these are matters that are second nature for us.
Frozen potato products are also a fast-growing segment in the international arena. Under the bulk consumer brand “Agrarfrost Professional”, we deliver a broad range of frozen potato products and potato snacks to a wide spectrum of national and international foodservice suppliers. All products are freshly made using whole potatoes and are exactly trimmed to the requirements of gastronomy-scale kitchens and community-catering facilities.
Which kinds of frozen potato products (french fries, baked potatoes, potato side dishes, mashed potatoes etc.) have performed better in the retail channel over the last year?
Our entire product range – starting with french fries and moving including potato pancakes, hash browns and croquettes – is particularly popular among the retail trade and consumers alike. It’s our french fries, however, that are most in demand, closely followed by potato wedges. Our snack products, the Griddies and Crazy Fries, are also very popular.
Healthy trends have become very important as a purchase incentive in the last few years. Which market policies have you adopted in order to enhance the consumer’s perception of frozen potato products? Which products and process innovations (recipes, oven or microwave preparation etc) have you adopted?
As mentioned before, we are consistent in pursuing our clean-label concept, by which we dispense with the use of artificial flavor enhancers, coloring agents, and flavor additives. What’s more, we use only high-quality High-Oleic (HO) sunflower oils in the pre-baking process for Agrarfrost retail oven-baking products. These High-Oleic sunflower oils are gained from specially cultivated sunflower seeds. Thanks to its high content of unsaturated fatty acids, they make a major contribution towards ensuring a valuable diet. For many years now we’ve also been working on the optimization salt content. These are all aspects that are of constantly increasing relevance among consumers.
Which are the assortment policies of retail chains for frozen potato products? How many private label products and how many branded products are on display in frozen product aisles? How many new products are introduced every year?
Agrarfrost has both private label and branded products in our product portfolio. In the branded product segment we offer french fries in a broad variety of cuts and shapes for cooking in the oven and deep-fryer, as well as ones for deep-frying alone. We also have a number of modern sides, for example our Country Wedges and our Mini Potato Pockets. New items include Crispy Potato Nuggets, which as entirely vegetable nuggets promise a wholesome nugget flavor even without meat ingredients. On top of these come classic products, for example our potato croquettes, duchess potatoes, pan-fried potatoes, and potato patties.
Products that make up our portfolio serve consumers’ wishes to the highest level. The brand regularly launches innovative products. Agrarfrost occupies a leading position in the market, enabling us to decide which brands and/or private label solutions we can develop for specific product lines. We’re keeping a very close eye on brand trends in the private label area. The issue of raw materials purchase is becoming ever more relevant for us and our customers. Our advantage, one that we’ve established over the years, is that we’re in control of the entire process, from the breeding of the seed potatoes all the way to their harvesting – and that’s an exceptional and unique feature. Consumers wish for products that wherever possible come from the local region. Combine this with many aspects relating to sustainability in the area of food production, and it’s this added value that distinguishes the brand from the private label area. What’s more, at Agrarfrost we are constantly working on new products, product modifications, and concepts aimed at increasing consumption, coming up with one to three new products each year.
Which foodservice sectors are more receptive towards frozen potato products? Which kinds of businesses (restaurants, fast food operationss, cafes etc.) are offering the newest and tastier opportunities for consumption?
As a rule, all trade channels always show a great interest for new and innovative products. The wholesale sector is constantly on the lookout for new solutions in the area of convenience products. But our customers would also like to know what new recipes that can be combined with frozen potato products are currently en vogue, and this is another area in which we are glad to support our partners by providing them with details that help to promote sales.
Which are the product ranges and novelties you rely on in order to lift your market share for frozen potato products? To which distribution channels do they turn to?
At the Internorga 2016 foodservice and hospitality trade show in Hamburg earlier this year, Agrarfrost introduced an expanded portfolio of products for young consumers by adding two novelties, each with a focus on appearance and flavor to clearly underscore its claim to naturalness. The new wave cut of the tasty wedges makes them even crispier. Combined with a rounded salty flavour, the wave-cut wedges promise a crispy and delicious flavour experience of the special kind. These new wave-cut wedges are quick and easy to bake in the combi-steamer, the deep fryer, the frying pan, or the oven. Made in the highest quality potato with the best flavor, the crispy wedges make the perfect side dish.
Cut from whole and unpeeled potatoes, our new coarse-cut french fries deliver genuine potato flavor in the highest quality. Only potatoes from sustainably managed farms and the best vegetable oil are used to make these french fries, still in their jacket. Quick and easy to prepare, they are especially delicious as a side for many different dishes or as a potato snack for in-between meals.