|“Mashed and roasted potatoes are increasing in popularity as a side option, along with sweet potatoes,” says Mike Ste Marie, key account manager of ConAgra Foods/Lamb Weston. “The frequency of visits to restaurants by consumers isn’t necessarily declining, but in many cases the portion size of French fries and potatoes is declining. This both controls costs and decreases waste for the operator, and allows consumers to still have their treat, albeit in smaller doses.”|
As the sweet potato continues to gain ground in terms of popularity on restaurant menus, all types of potatoes are appearing on a wider variety of menu day parts. Gone are the days when having potatoes at a meal simply meant a side of fries or a dressed baked potato.
“We have an extensive list of products currently that are well suited for each day part and offer a great deal of versatility,” says Chris Lovisa, corporate chef of Cavendish Farms. “Products do not have to be labeled for a specific day part to be used at that time. Non-traditional, creative and innovative uses of products allow for greater usage and appeal in various menu sections and in different day parts – creativity is the key. An example is baked sweet potato fries at breakfast.”
McCain’s Switzer agrees, adding that potatoes can be used to bring a little extra surprise to more traditional dishes not usually associated with potatoes.
“The great thing about potatoes is that they fit all the different day parts,” says Switzer. “Hashbrowns and diced potatoes are the most popular for breakfast. They could be used as a side option or you could try something like hashbrowns as the base for eggs with hollandaise sauce. We feature a number of recipes on our website which help give operators ideas for using potatoes in all the day parts in unique ways.”
Ste Marie says that having a facility built specifically for the production of sweet potatoes has also allowed his company to create a variety of sweet potato options with different cuts and seasonings.
“In turn, this has allowed us to be featured more prominently on appetizer menus for lunch and dinner and even dices for breakfast,” says Ste Marie.
According to many chefs and producers, using both regular and sweet potatoes is also a great way to experiment with a wide variety of spices, seasonings and herbs. Ranging from sweet to savoury flavourings, producers are now giving operators and diners plenty to choose from.
“Operators are offering gourmet ketchup recipes, different kinds of aioli and even drizzling garlic or truffle oil and adding parmesan or other cheeses to fries now,” says Ste Marie. “Poutines are very popular, as fries are now being topped with everything from pulled pork to demi glaces and even marshmallows. The flavours are not restricted to anything and chefs everywhere are creating all kinds of new ways to present fries.”
Look for a fit
No matter what accoutrements chefs choose to add, however, restaurants should keep in mind what their menu stands for and how those flavours blend in with the restaurant’s intended overall dining experience, according to Lovisa.
“Incorporating popular and trending flavours and ingredients is important provided that the menu idea or item fits within the framework of the restaurant concept,” says Lovisa. “Utilize menu features, menu boards or limited-time offers to evaluate guest acceptance of new and innovative flavours and applications.”
With an increasing number of consumers looking for healthier menu options, some diners may avoid potatoes due mainly to their reputation as high-carbohydrate items and less healthy cooking techniques such as deep frying. But as sweet potatoes and other varieties grow in popularity, so does the potential for healthier potato preparations, says Switzer.
“Potato varieties like sweet potatoes and red-skin potatoes have a ‘health halo’ with consumers and having these varieties as a second fry option is a great way to give consumers choice,” says Switzer. “They are also seen as more ‘premium’ and operators can charge more compared to the traditional fry. Potatoes that are baked, roasted or in a wedge-cut type with skin on are also seen as being healthier with consumers.”
Ultimately, though, it will be up to restaurant diners to decide which potato trends stay on the menu and which are destined for the stock pot. But based on the popularity of the reliable old spud, it looks like we’ll be singing its praises for years to come.