Mash Hits: Focus on potato products

08/08/2017 - 11:25
The humble spud continues to be an all-round winner, providing the cost sector with opportunities to offer choice, quality and value for money. Sheila Eggleston reports on the trends.

More than 1.75 billion potato servings were delivered out-of-home in the year ending December 2016, according to the latest research by the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board and NPD Crest. However, while chips and French fries top the menu, servings were down 13.4%. Instead, the star performers were wedges and skins with 82.2 million servings, up 26.5% year on year, and jacket potatoes with 143.8 million servings, up 6.5%.

Frozen products in particular provide operators with choice and some stability against seasonal issues and rising prices in today’s volatile economic climate, but, with customisation being a key trend, wedges and skins especially offer operators opportunities to jazz up their menus with interesting toppings and dips to upsell to diners.

Sweet potato wedges and fries are doing well, according to the British Frozen Food Federation, as they are also perceived as healthier, while sweet potatoes in general have gained from suppliers’ innovative twists. For example, this year, Lamb Weston launched both sweet potato CrissCut and shoestring fries.

Marie Medhurst, sales and marketing director for Bannisters’ Farm, says sweet potato is popular with health- conscious consumers, and that its own baked variants can be microwaved from frozen in six minutes. “Sweet potato skins are another option, and ideal for contemporary fillings like pulled pork,” she adds.

Medhurst says that pre-prepared products are driving much of the growth in the UK frozen food market, which is set to increase by a further 2% in 2017, and, this being claimed as the year of healthy eating, one of the key trends is clean eating – diets based on eating natural wholefood and keeping processed food to a minimum. For this reason, jacket potatoes are important for this trend, plus operators can offer them all year round, she states.

“For the cost sector, frozen ready- baked potatoes provide the best solution thanks to the quick cooking times, easy storage and long life,” she says, adding that its Littl’uns baked potatoes also offer a light-bite alternative.

Paul Howell, head of commercial at Anglia Crown, which provides meal solutions for the healthcare sector, says potatoes are universally popular, but particularly with older people at homes and during a stay in hospital.

“Potatoes can form the base of many quick, simple and nutritious meals,” comments Howell. “They are a source of fibre and potassium, and are naturally fat- and gluten-free.

“Mash is an essential component of our prepared meals and we mash an astonishing two tonnes of British potato at our UK factory every day we operate. We are proud to partner with UK supplier Parripak for our mash; its traditional agricultural operation in Bedfordshire was a perfect match for us.

“Our most popular dishes containing potatoes include baked jackets, along with traditional meals such as shepherd’s pie or roast chicken dinner. We also provide potato-based sides including cheesy mash, croquette potatoes and jacket wedges.”

Following trials of many products with patients, staff and visitors at the Countess of Chester Hospital, catering manager Craig Hough says McCain’s Original Choice thick-cut chips, Menu Signatures Traditional, and Original Choice roasts all delivered when it came to taste, texture, consistency and convenience, second only to prepping potatoes from scratch.

“Potatoes are important to the catering operation,” comments Hough. “Patients need carbohydrates for energy so it’s essential that we serve them with every meal, and potato products are a favourite.

“There is nothing better than home- made roast potatoes so we usually prepare ours from scratch, but we’ll keep the Original Choice roasts on standby because they are as close as you can get to the quality of a home-made roast.”

McCain also supports school caterers with its McCain Simply One Pot Meal competition and its showcase at the annual LACA exhibition.

This year, the competition, which challenges school cooks to create nutritionally balanced one-pot recipes using at least one product from the McCain Simply range, saw cook supervisor Rose Khan, from Barking and Dagenham Catering Services, win with her one-pot chicken bolognese and potato cakes.

At LACA, McCain brought on board leading street food trader Jon Knight, co-founder of Original Fry Up Material, to demonstrate street food twists for schools.

While Knight sets up on streets or in fields for festivals, he considered the operational difficulties to be much the same as a busy school kitchen, and provided easy recipes using the Simply range that cooks can adopt.

These included Mexican wedges topped with tomato salsa, lime mayo and fresh herbs; chicken ragu with potato croquettes, steamed veg and fresh herbs; slow-cooked pulled pork, roasted veg and smashed roasts; and aloo kofta ‘Bhangra Balls’ made using mash and stuffed with dried fruit and paneer cheese.

Nic Townsend, marketing manager UK & Ireland at Farm Frites, says that MCA Allegra’s annual ‘Menu and Food Trends Report’ for 2017 cites premium snacks as a ‘hot trend’, which he believes is satisfied by potato products.

“They are ideal as they are warm, filling and can be offered with flavours and sauces for greater food interaction,” explains Townsend. “Premium snacks are an extension to the ‘sociable’ trends, which have been prevalent and very relevant for caterers. It demonstrates the need to think about premium snacking, lighter meals and offering high quality.”

Farm Frites’ portfolio includes the Cut Specialities range, which he says is perfect for snacking, such as wedges ranging from sweet curry and spicy tomato to barbecue and garlic and herb flavours that can be prepared in a fryer in three to four minutes. They can be served as an individual flavour or a mixture customised by the diner with dipping sauces, adds Townsend.

New product development continues to give chips new impetus. Townsend says that its Extra range, for instance, offers chips with an allergen-free coating that guarantees greater heat retention and consistency, plus they come in a variety of cut sizes. The newest is the 15mm, which is popular as a chunky chip, and the skin-on option is good for consumers who might choose a skin-on fry for additional health benefits, he adds.

Country Range’s crispy-coated fries are fluffy potato chips wrapped in a coating that ensures they stay crisp. “They stay crisp longer than standard fries and are ready in around four minutes in the fryer, so are incredibly convenient,” comments trading director Martin Ward.

National wholesaler JJ FoodService has added frozen ‘chippy chips’ to its own-label range to help mobile caterers save time, labour and overhead costs. A special coating gives the chips a crispy texture, which retains heat and crispiness, plus they are made with sunflower oil in a gluten- free environment.

Customers want consistent quality at a great price or premium options offering a point of difference, according to Brakes category manager Frankie Attwater.

“Following the success of our premium chips and fries during 2016, we are launching a premium crispy- coated roast potato for Christmas 2017,” says Attwater. “It’s a top-quality gluten-free product that maintains the easy preparation and portion control of a standard roast potato.”

Research by potato products specialist Aviko in the run-up to Coeliac Week in May revealed that nearly half of people are more likely to choose a restaurant that offers gluten-free dishes, but, despite more appearing out-of- home, the survey showed that 62% of consumers still believe that operators don’t do enough to cater for diners with gluten intolerance.

As part of its ‘Gluten Free Heroes’ campaign, Aviko encouraged caterers to look at ways their menus can be updated to meet demand. Support for coeliac-friendly menus included offering recipe ideas using its products, such as slow-roasted lamb with honey, figs, cream and cheese gratin; fries with spicy bean and guacamole topping; wedges with ribs and slaw; and hash brown croque madame.

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