Potato bravo

10/03/2015 - 14:11
With their popularity and versatility, potatoes are the natural perennial side dish that cost sector caterers need to exploit with the help of events such as Chip Week. Sheila Eggleston reports on the latest trends.

Potatoes are a vital part of menus – universally loved by consumers and a boon to caterers wanting  cost-effective sides to offset more-expensive ingredients.

However, the uncertainty of how the potato products market would fare in 2014 has been borne out by various reports that indicate that weather has again been the catalyst in raising prices.

Graeme McKenzie, head of offer development at Bidvest 3663, says that according to a recent YouGov report, the fresh and chilled potato market was valued at £1.52 billion in 2013, rising by 17% from 2012 because of supply and demand.

“The market has experienced a strong rise in value since 2011, driven mainly by price increases, as heavy rain, flooding and cold snaps negatively affected the potato crop, disrupting supply and driving up prices in 2012 and 2013,” he comments.

“However, volumes have dropped in many categories, and a recent consumer report by the Potato Council indicates that fresh and frozen varieties are experiencing year-on-year declines in individual meal occasions, with the greatest losses occurring in evening meals – a trend reflected in foodservice. Therefore, the onus is on operators to reignite consumers’ interest in potato products to put them back on their plate.”

He says the top potato side dishes in the UK are fries, mash, baked and new potatoes. “Side dishes lend themselves well to upselling, so operators should encourage staff to offer sides such as wedges for £3 or substitute chips for sweet potato fries for £1,” he comments.

“Dishes such as Spanish-inspired patatas bravas can be made easily using diced potato and a spicy tomato sauce for a starter or accompaniment, while chilli and lime sweet potato fries put a new spin on the popular side.”

Recently, the distributor expanded its chilled range to include Peka potato gratin, rosti rolls and dauphinois potato tray to enhance its offering of indulgent sides.

As well as organising the annual Chip Week intiative, the Potato Council has undertaken research to identify the best potatoes to use in different applications. “Research has shown us that diners see taste and texture as key to their enjoyment of a dish; in other words, they want a ‘fluffy’ roast or ‘smooth’ mash,” explains marketing manager Kate Cox.

“By using our classification, caterers can identify the best varieties for their most popular dishes to help deliver consistent results. We have many recipe ideas online to fit different menus, all of which can be sorted by classification, variety, or type of cuisine or meal desired.”

Farm Frites marketing manager Nic Townsend says that whether it is chips, mash, wedges, hash browns or roasts, potato products remain the backbone of many meals out of home, and that cost sector caterers can gain huge flexibility and great profit potential.

“Lower-cost-value products such as chips and potatoes can make the difference between what is perceived as a good meal or a bad one, and caterers need to make sure preparation and holding time is managed correctly if they want to make a good impression,” he comments.

“Home-made chips can be a unique selling point, but you have to think about the consistency of raw material, preparation time, waste if you prep too much, as well as starch and chemical additives in the drainage system.
“One of the most lucrative trends at the moment is sharing options and small plates,” he adds. “Nearly a third of consumers say they prefer to share dishes with companions when eating out, and potato products can be key to delivering innovative yet simple-to-produce platters.”

The company says its ‘Let’s Go Mini’ potato mini bites enable operators to offer innovative sides and sharing options. Wedges generate revenue too, adds Townsend; servings of wedges have increased 6.4% over the year and are finding favour, particularly with female diners. The company has therefore added sweet curry, garlic and herbs, and spiced tomato variants to its range.

Aviko general manager Mohammed Essa points out that there were a staggering 1.65 billion out-of-home potato servings in the year ending June 2014, according to the Potato Council.

“Using speciality potato products that are quick and simple to serve yet don’t sacrifice the quality of the final dish is essential when catering for high volume,” he comments.

“The choice of lengths, sizes and textures enables caterers to refresh their menus by rotating everyday varieties with premium fries, wedges, mash and gratins. As a result, we give caterers the freedom to focus on other parts of the menu with the added benefit of minimising waste, and updating menus quickly and easily.”

Health-wise, Essa says that the company has used herbs and spices as an alternative to salt to enhance flavour. “We work hard to reduce the salt content of our products for consumers; between 2011 and 2012, we removed 16t of salt from our range, including menu staples such as roast potatoes and mash.”

McCain product manager Katrina Ellis says there continues to be strong demand for familiar, traditional favourites among school pupils, with roast dinners, sausage and mash, and fish and chips among the most popular dishes on the school menu. “However, it is vital that any ‘favourites’ live up to pupil expectations – dry roasts, soggy or cold chips, and lumpy mash are big turn-offs,” she comments.

McCain, which is an accredited Food for Life supplier, offers many products recognised as unprocessed and freshly prepared.

Ellis says that serving at least one potato dish every day will keep pupils happy and help caterers meet the requirement of serving at least one portion of starchy food every day.

“For younger pupils, the focus should remain on offering familiar favourites, but for older pupils, they will be keen to have options available that reflect high street trends,” she adds. “Handheld menu items, such as Simply wedges or dice with toppings such as chilli or beans, are popular. They also meet the nutrient and operational standards, and are quick and easy to prepare and serve.”

McCain has also developed recipes that can be cooked in one pot, all of which are compliant with the new school food standards. These include Louisiana potatoes and chicken, BBQ pork wedge bake, and a vegetable, pea and potato curry.

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