Special Focus: French Fries


Few items are as universal to restaurant menus as french fries. But few
categories present as many options to purchasers. Major manufacturers
offer up to 200 skus of frozen fries. How to choose the right potato
for your operation—a fry that pleases fussy customers, differentiates
your concept and works with your traffic flow?


“There’s a cut to meet every operational need,” says Matt Petersen,
marketing manager for J.R. Simplot Company. While a QSR might want a
shoestring fry that cooks up quickly, a buffet concept is looking for a
thick wedge with a longer hold time and a casual steakhouse, a
batter-coated potato that can be sprinkled with its proprietary
seasoning, he adds.


Jay Wallsweer, brand manager at McCain’s, another major supplier of
fries, sees a trend toward specialty products. “Sweet potato fries are
the rising star,” he claims, “and specialty cuts [like lattices or
loops] and signature seasonings are also going strong. “ These
alternatives are especially appealing to casual dining, where more than
one french fry choice is becoming necessary to stay competitive and
increase profits. “Operators are branching out to offer a second option
besides traditional straight-cut fries,” notes Wallsweer.


That said, straight-cut fries—either regular or crinkle cut—are the top
foodservice buy. Petersen points out three characteristics that
determine quality and affect customer response: length, texture and
color. “Length is very important as it helps determine yield,” he
explains. “You need fewer long pieces to fill up a container or cover
the plate; a top quality product has more long pieces while a
low-quality one is made up of shorter pieces.” Wallsweer agrees,
adding, “if it takes fewer fries to make a serving, there’s more profit
for the operator. And long pieces provide more perceived value for the
customer.” As far as texture goes, limp and soggy are out—a cooked
french fry should be crisp on the outside with a baked potato-texture
inside. And a consistent golden color is the benchmark; light for
uncooked fries and a deeper gold for cooked potatoes.


The quality of the finished product is impacted by delivery and
handling as well. “Treat a case of french fries like a case of eggs,”
Petersen advises. “If you drop the case, the long pieces break up and
your yield goes out the door.” Inspect the case, too, to make sue
there’s no damage or leakage. And make sure the fries don’t clump
together in their bags—they should be free flowing without any ice
crystals.


Now that trans-fat-free fries are an industry standard, sodium has
moved to the forefront as a health issue. The major manufacturers are
reformulating some products to reduce sodium and taking other
health-oriented initiatives. “We’re also looking at bakeability—how
fries perform in the oven—so we can cut total fat,” adds Wallsweer.