“Spuds, spuds, spuds! Ah, they’re really great…You can boil them in their jackets, and chips are nice to treat…” sings Farmer Dan (aka Barry Doyle), the country/comedy musician from the Mourne Mountains of Northern Ireland. And he ought to know just how popular, in its many forms, this comfort food is throughout the British Isles.
In the United Kingdom, which has historically been a strong market for the potato business, growth is significant. In 2019 sales of processed and preserved potato products reached approximately £2,635,000, or nearly doubled from the value generated 10 years before, according to Statista
Frozen french fries and specialty items are far in the forefront of the value-added potato parade. As quick service restaurants and other foodservice outlets vie for customers, demand for convenience food products such as fries, chips, wedges and mash have risen dramatically. According to Statista estimates, frozen potato products had the highest market volume amounting to approximately 485,000 metric tons in the UK for the week ending June 14, 2020.
With 73% of all dining out occasions featuring chips in Britain, it’s clear to see why this sector booms when restaurants are open for business. So now that most pandemic restrictions regarding social distancing have been lifted and near-normal service has resumed in restaurants and pubs England and Scotland, consumers are keen to eat out and returning to commercial eating establishments in large numbers.
No longer satisfied with just plain chips, today’s consumers have driven R&D teams to produce a breadth of potato products that will satisfy the need for variety and excitement in the sector.
Coated fries continue to be the major development in the category currently. With the shift to take-away and delivery, these products are well suited to assure delivery of products in pretty much in the same state they were when prepared.
“Our Chef’s Specials Crispy Coated offers customers the option of all cut sizes to suit all menus to give fries that remain hotter and crisper longer than standard,” said Nic Townsend, trade marketer at Farm Frites UK and Ireland.
The Oudenhoorn, Netherland-headquartered company’s insight suggests that even with the lockdown lessening operators are looking at keeping traditional menu offers, sometimes with a twist, to allow consumers to enjoy what they have missed the most. Standard fries continue to be best sellers.
“Our ‘proper pub chip,’ the Dukes of Chippingdom, has been doing really well since launch due to their Britishness, especially with the huge importance of provenance right now, as well as meeting the vegan trend,” said Andrea Deutschmanek, Lamb Weston international marketing lead for Northern Europe. “Our Hot2Home Fries, with invisible starch coating and patented packaging that keeps them hot and crispy for 20 minutes, have proven popular during this last year as they are perfectly suited to delivery/takeaway, as well as loaded concepts and dining in.”
According to Steenderen, Netherlands-headquarters Aviko, its Supercrunch fries stay hot and crunchy for longer to provide the perfect solution for home delivery and reducing food waste in busy kitchens. The brand recently undertook some tests and after 20 minutes of simulated delivery, Supercrunch fries were still hot and crunchy.
In fact, according to Aviko’s research, 83% of customers found crunchiness to be the most important factor when ordering fries for delivery, with 81% saying they would buy fries more often if they were warm and crunchy on delivery.
“With delivery playing such an important role in foodservice at the moment, it is important to not let quality standards slip,” said an Aviko spokesperson. “There is no need for a disclaimer with coated fries, they are made for delivery and can help your business prosper for all those takeaway orders. With coated fries, there really is more than meets the fry.”
McCain Foodservice Solutions is also supporting customers through this difficult coronavirus pandemic period with its “Let’s Do Next Level Delivery” campaign, which provides insight and information on a “game changing delivery product range” that can help operators take their delivery offerings to the next level. The new range comprises SureCrisp fries that stay hotter and crisp for longer, and Pickers, which are promoted as “the ultimate delicious cheesy sides suited for delivery.”
“The ever changing local restrictions and national lockdowns are meaning that operators are having to constantly pivot to adapt their service operations, with delivery now taking the lead on their list of priorities,” said a McCain Foodservice Solutions’ spokesperson. “Our expert support further offers a wealth of insight around both profitability and pro packaging tips to help operators make delivery a real success.”
Supply and Demand
The past couple of years have been unprecedented for the foodservice industry with Brexit and the Covid-19 disease outbreak causing disruption to proceedings. However, the retail frozen potato products sector seems to have fared well.
“Luckily for us we had little impact from Brexit, although we were ready for any eventuality. We ensured there was sufficient product available should customers want to stock up in expectation of shortages,” said Nic Townsend of Farm Frites. “The pandemic saw a huge reduction in the foodservice trade as we all know, but as both lockdown eased and, more importantly, operators look at new means to serve customers, the impact has lessened.”
The impact of Brexit and the pandemic was greater for those companies relying on exports or production overseas.
“We were prepared in the best way that we could, Having a production facility in Wisbech, we were able to satisfy the demands of the UK foodservice market quickly, on demand,” said Deutschmanek. “We’ve seen a huge demand and surge in sales as people are desperate to go out again, especially during big sporting events like the Euros and Wimbledon.”
According to Farm Frites, sales aren’t quite back to normal yet, but as more places open and delivery and take-away options continue to thrive, there is hope that once all operators are again open at full capacity sales should return to pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re quite convinced that things will return to normal and settle into a regular pattern, following an initial surge, probably quicker than any predictions being made on the future, obviously depending on the overall economic situation,” said Deutschmanek. “But fries will always be an affordable treat, as well as a mainstream staple.”
No one knows what the future hold and it is bound to take time to return to levels seen before the devastating Covid-19 health and economic crisis. However, as lockdown levels are reduced and foodservice operators expand their businesses, there is sure to be growth in demand.
“We are in close contact with all our customers to enable us to ensure that production meets demand,” said Townsend. “We can ensure that the nation’s favorite side dish is available for all.” – Reported by Sarah Welsh