The quality and versatility of the humble spud is often under exploited by pubs and restaurants. But with wedges, patatas bravas and gratins proving increasingly popular, potato products are firmly in the spotlight
The solid citizen of the root vegetable world, the potato is all too often taken for granted in professional kitchens. But with British dinners at home seven times more likely to contain potato than rice or pasta, spuds surely deserve elevated status on restaurant and pub menus. While most establishments will acknowledge the importance of a good chip, there is plenty more room to exploit the myriad alternative potato products that can be added to the menu mix.
More than 80 varieties of potato are grown commercially in the UK alone, each boasting a different flavour, texture and appearance. What’s more, potatoes are eminently flexible, meaning there’s a huge range of items that can be created from them, either in-house or by specialist suppliers. Some potato dishes take time and skill to make from scratch, but thankfully there are also excellent prepared products available to chefs and we’re not just talking frozen chips.
From ready made roasties to wedges and mashed potato (a whole world away from the days of powdered Smash), there are all sorts of time-saving, easy to use potato products that achieve consistent results and score highly in taste tests, too.
Following research that identified demand among pub chefs for pre prepared home made style roast potatoes, McCain has launched its Signatures Roasts. Made from potatoes that have simply been peeled, chopped, blanched and frozen, they’re ready to roast in the oven in under 30 minutes. What’s more, in a taste test which pitched the roasts against those made from scratch, the majority of consumers were unable to tell the difference.
Chefs who make roast potatoes from scratch are finding them time-consuming, labour intensive, difficult to produce to a consistent standard, and that they create a high level of waste, says Rebecca Rowlands, McCain Foods profit sector product manager. Seasonal issues with the fluctuating quality and cost of the potato crop can also make it difficult to manage budgets and maintain profit margin, whilst they also take up valuable oven space on Sundays when space is at a premium due to the need to roast large joints of meat.
A reputation for serving consistently great tasting roast potatoes can help operators stand out among the competition. But these operational challenges mean that 80% of pub operators only serve roast potatoes on a Sunday, despite their status as a pub classic and consumer favourite. The introduction of McCain Signatures Roasts ensures operators can now maximise the profit opportunity offered by roasts by serving them throughout the week.
Aviko also offers roast potatoes made from specially selected potatoes and ready to cook in as little as 20 minutes as does Farm Frites, with a new gluten free coated roast potato (for extra crunch) just about to join its existing range. Another popular option within Aviko’s frozen potato range are herb diced potatoes, which are tossed in parsley and basil and can be cooked in three and a half minutes in a fryer or 10 minutes in an oven ideal as a premium alternative to chips.
Snacking and sharing are certainly two major growth areas that show little signs of slowing down. In fact, nearly a third of consumers prefer to share dishes with companions when eating out, according to recent research. Potatoes particularly wedges are now considered a key part of any tapas style offer.
According to Aviko, which supplies gluten free frozen wedges in a wide range of flavour options such as garlic and herb, spicy and Tex-Mex, they generate a whopping 935% gross profit. The company’s general manager for UK and Ireland, Mohammed Essa, says They can be prepared in a matter of minutes, helping caterers deal with serving a large number of people in a limited time frame. Another bonus is that the wedges offer guaranteed portion control because they don’t have to be prepared in advance.
Farm Frites’ wedges (including a soon to launch chilli version), new patatas bravas (tested in Spain and Portugal for authenticity) and Lamb Weston’s newly launched ‘potato dippers’ (skin on potatoes shaped for dipping, ready to fry or oven bake), also tap into the snacking and sharing trend, and create the opportunity for impulse sales.
Farm Frites’ market manager Nic Townsend says More and more of us pop out for a drink or snack, and products like wedges and bravas can create unplanned sales when offered at the bar or alongside a bottle of wine with dips or seasonings to spice them up.
Lamb Weston’s UK sales director Nigel Phillips adds Customers find dipping a great way to relax and the start to a good evening out with friends, and our new potato dippers provide the chef with the ideal base to get creative with a range of colourful dips.
Farm Frites now the third largest potato processing company in the world has a broad range of potato based products spanning everything from pommes Parisiennes and deluxe mash to croquettes and waffles, alongside every iteration of fries imaginable.
Of course, at this time of year, many dishes call for the warmth and comfort of creamy mash, or something more indulgent like dauphinoise or potato gratin.
Peka Kroef’s range of gratins all of which are ready in just 20 minutes in the oven includes a classic dauphinoise, a ‘deluxe’ version with an even richer flavour, a vegetable variant with the addition of carrots, leeks, parsnips and celeriac, and a Mediterranean version with paprika and sweet pepper cheese.
Neil Smith, head of food marketing at Brakes, says sales of potato gratin have been on the up and show no sign of slowing. Brakes also offers a gratin dauphinoise which is increasingly in demand.
Offering more premium potato lines on menus is becoming popular among operators as a way of providing a point of difference, he says. The Brakes Individual Potato Gratin Dauphinoise is particularly popular, especially as it makes portion control and costs easy to manage. It also works well for banqueting or special occasion menus, such as Valentine’s, Mothers’ Day and Easter.
Aviko’s cream and cheese gratins made with Emmental and cream are individually prepared and portioned (in 100g sizes) to help save time and reduce wastage. They can be baked in an oven in around 25 minutes or in a combi steamer in approximately 16 minutes.
And if you prefer to do things your own way, you still can with a ready made mash, as Brakes’ Smith explains We’ve seen sales of standard lines such as Brakes Essentials Mashed Potato which can be customised with ingredients such as horseradish, mustard, cheese and leeks growing as operators seek to display ‘home made’ on menus.
La Pataterie the French specialist chain that’s heading over the Channel
French potato themed restaurant concept La Pataterie is planning its first restaurant in the UK this year with the potential to roll out its brand across the country. The group, which has around 170 restaurants in France, is looking at towns in the south east with a population in excess of 100,000 for its inaugural UK site.
La Pataterie sells itself as having a quirky, rustic design, a friendly atmosphere and hearty cooking centred around the ‘samba’ potato variety. The menu offers the likes of fondues, tarts, potato bakes, gratins and salads, with seven dishes under 7 euro (5.80 pounds sterling ) and an average spend per head of just over 17 euro (14 pounds sterling ).
Billed as France’s first ever potato themed restaurant, it was launched in 1996 in the south of the country by Jean Christophe Pailleux and Michel Gambart, with further sites added at a steady rate until 2003, when the group grew rapidly through franchising.
La Pataterie plans to open one UK site this year, three in its second year, eight in 2016 and then 20 a year after that. It is looking at sites of between 2,500 and 4,500sq ft.
Chip Week an opportunity not to be missed
Chip Week returns from 17 to 23 February, so what better time to highlight a genuine customer favourite on your menu
The annual event is now in its 23rd year and provides a marketing platform to drive sales. Stu Baker, Chip Week campaign manager for the British Potato Council, says Chip Week is now a national institution and pubs and restaurants are being urged to get involved and celebrate one of the nation’s favourite foods.
A mix and match chip menu from chunky chips and thin fries to lattice style chips and spicy wedges is a great way to support Chip Week, boosting sales and giving customers the opportunity to choose their favourite chip.
Introducing a second, more premium chip, such as McCain Sweet Potato Fries or Lamb Weston’s new Sweet ‘n Savour sweet potato fries (coated with a savoury seasoning and available in crispy and ribble variants), is another way of getting customers talking about chips during Chip Week.
McCain Foods’ Rebecca Rowland says Offering the opportunity to upgrade from standard chips for an extra 1 pounds sterling will not only satisfy consumers’ demands for choice, but will help to increase profits while minimising the impact on operations back of house.