College students love french fries. It doesn’t matter if they are menued as a shareable appetizer or a side dish; if they’re waffle-cut, straight, julienne, shoestring or crinkle-cut; or if they’re baked or fried. It only matters that they’re crispy, hot and have a great potato flavor.
Fewer students, however, are satisfied with their schools’ foodservice facilities year over year, according to Technomic’s latest College & University Consumer Trend Report. Students continue to demand improvement in taste, quality and variety. While students’ share of on-campus versus off-campus foodservice visits remain largely unchanged, heightened competition from off-campus restaurants will drive improvements on campus in the near future—and that includes offering the beloved french fry.
But how can college and university (C&U) foodservice operators position a better french fry? Here are three ways operators can capture students’ attention and satisfy their french fry cravings.
New frying fats
According to Technomic’s 2019 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, there’s a move toward new animal fats for frying. Duck-fat fries have been promoted across menus at independents and higher-end emerging chains, and experimentation is expanding. To that end, C&U operators should expect to see indulgence being marketed as the appeal behind fries cooked in chicken fat. And beef-fat fries also will carve out a wider niche on the menu, which can be advantageous for C&U operators that have kitchens dedicated to zero-waste operations.
Snacks and small plates
French fries are good platforms for innovation and are well-positioned to gain share of stomach as eating habits shift to include more snacking and desire for innovation. Positioning fries as starters and small plates (in addition to being offered as a side for an entree) provides the flexibility needed to meet increasingly personalized consumer cravings that can help drive incremental traffic.
Because many students are more willing to try interesting flavors in a less expensive small or shareable option as opposed to in a larger entree, C&U operators can capitalize on french fry starter and small plate innovation. Cheese sauces, sprinkled seasonings, batters, chili and truffle oils and plenty of other ingredients have been used to top and flavor french fries over the years. But customers always seem to be eager for more differentiation for fries, and it’s a relatively easy innovation for operators to execute. Try topping fries with different proteins or cheeses and even certain vegetables for a new twist on a classic favorite.
Most fries are best eaten within a few minutes of cooking, when their crispness and temperature are at their peak. As time goes on, fries cool off and their taste and texture begin to suffer. Cold, limp fries are a major disappointment and can hurt repeat business. This is especially true for takeout, delivery and catering orders where moisture is the enemy of crispness—because plastic and foam containers aren’t good at venting the moisture coming off hot fries. The biggest challenge operators face is keeping french fries hot and crispy for extended periods of time.
But operators now have a solution. Conquest fries from Simplot are made with a special gluten-free starch coating that insulates the fry, giving it a fresh taste, texture and visual appeal no matter if it’s fried or baked. In fact, that insulation gives it triple the hold time of conventional fries. This is particularly important to ensure takeout, delivery and catering customers still get the delicious quality of french fries that just came out of the fryer or oven, even if they don’t eat them until they get back to the dorm or the library.
For college students who love fries, the options are endless. C&U operators should offer new toppings, experiment with frying fat and consider crispier options to keep students coming back again and again.
This post is sponsored by Simplot