Value-added frozen potato products have long been overachievers in restaurants and other foodservice channels as low cost items that offer operators healthy profits. They are particularly popular with consumers during times of economic hardship, making them an increasingly hot item in the freezer aisles of retail stores at the moment.
Like most of the rest of the world, the foodservice sector in the United Kingdom has been hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the industry is still reeling from the fallout. Due to restaurant closures, reduced hours and restrictions on gatherings, foodservice suppliers have experienced dramatic declines in demand for potato products. However, as businesses evolved to cope with the changes, things have begun to look up.
“After the initial shock of lockdown and the closing of literally all hospitality sites, our extensive ‘Bounce Back’ offer received a lot of positive feedback from customers as it is very supportive for wholesalers and operators alike,” said Andrea Deutschmanek, Lamb Weston’s marketing manager for the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The offer features deep-cut promotions on 21 of the frozen potato manufacturer’s core products for wholesalers, enabling buy-in deals to ease stock management and help with cash flow.
As the summer months welcomed easing of restrictions in Britain, foodservice establishments were getting busier – and not just due to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ push, although it did have a significant positive impact on the industry.
“When lockdown was relaxed and the Eat Out campaign commenced, we saw some pick up in trade, but nowhere near pre-lockdown levels as some operators struggled to open or trade fully with the restrictions in place,” said Nic Townsend, trade marketer at Farm Frites UK and Ireland, which grows and manufacturers a wide range potato products in the Netherlands for export to customers around the globe.
Suppliers such as Farm Frites looked at how they could support operators to continue trading. The additional increase in delivery and take away options presented value-added potato product suppliers with the potential to increase sales with new offerings and menu ideas.
Following the successful launch of its ‘Simply Fries Profit Rise’ campaign in 2019, which aimed to help chefs get creative with store cupboard ingredients, Farm Frites created the “Lockdown Cookbook” with product and recipe tips for maximizing sales and profits using dishes such as loaded fries, in addition to tips for delivery and recommendations on best products to use for delivery.
“The need to be resourceful with ingredients is never more relevant in these times, and anything goes,” said Townsend. “As operators seek to diversify menus along these lines and offer takeaway options, loaded fries are a good dish to experiment with.”
Farm Frites also ran supporting promotions aimed at operators to enable them to offer their customers new dishes, upgrades and promote their own activity.
New Product Development
The last six months has seen a lull in new flavor trends, but as foodservice operators look for innovative ways to serve potato products interest in flavor innovation is sure to prevail.
“Apart from any health concerns in relation to fried products, consumers tend to live their lives according to the base levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Physiological – food, water, warmth, rest; Safety and Security; Belongingness and Love; Esteem – prestige and feeling of accomplishment; Self-actualisation),” explained Deutschmanek. “Therefore, people will still treat themselves because everyone loves chips in the UK and this won’t change.”
With takeaway and delivery options the key to trading success in the current climate, there is now even greater need for potato products to support this demand. Coated products fit the bill as they not only tap into the trend for flavor, but also stay hotter and crisper for longer, making them ideal for on-the-go food options.
Farm Frites’ new coated line is now fully operational, following a €50 million investment to provide the company with a high tech solution to the growing demand for coated products.
“We continue to use our insight partners at Lumina, Backman and others to ensure we stay very close to market developments and tailor our activity to support market driven needs both in product and communication,” said Townsend. “The expectation that take away and delivery will continue to grow and become more the ‘new norm’ across all sectors will lead the development in product and packaging.”
Farm Frites’ Chef’s Special Crispy Coated range aims to satisfy the demand for crispy, coated, tasty fries with greater heat retention. The line is available in a number of cut sizes in addition to a premium length – all of which have the desired crunch. Chef’s Special Crispy coated also features a 10mm skin-on for more rustic menus or for more variety with a classic cut size.
The range’s coating is gluten free, which creates the right crunch while providing foodservice establishments with an appealing product to offer customers with special dietary requirements.
“Chef’s Special Crispy coated is the fry that operators can rely on for taste, texture and heat retention, and this is paramount in many foodservice outlets,” said Townsend. “Consumers expect hot fries when served and for that heat to remain while they eat their meal. This range is well suited to casual, fast casual and take-away menus as well as being ideal for delivery where products need to stay tasting their best longer.”
Lamb Weston has also focused attention on creating the perfect product for deliveries, producing award-winning Hot2Home fries that offer a solution to the problem of flaccidness, as they stay hot and crispy for up to 20 minutes.
“Our newest launch, The Dukes of Chippingdom, is hugely popular and on trend – a super tasty, thick-cut, homemade-looking, proper pub chip,” said Deutschmanek. “Cut from 100% British potatoes, it’s big on provenance as well as flavor and appearance.”
Although the landscape has dramatically changed for the foodservice industry during lockdown, the impact on the frozen food sector hasn’t been entirely bad. Frozen potato products that travel well after preparation are ideal for the current delivery and takeaway trends, as foodservice businesses continue to rely on suppliers to provide them with tasty products that assure convenience, peace of mind and good profit margins. – Reported by Sarah Welsh