September 6, 2017

Processed potatoes help lead the dietary renaissance

For decades, America has had a love affair with potatoes. They appear in one of their many forms – chips, French fries, roasted or mashed – on our tables at least once every day. No other vegetable can make that claim. In the past decade, though, potato consumption has been in decline, mostly due to consumer interest in low-carb diets. Trend watchers say carbs are making a comeback, though. Produce Processing first spotted this trend at Fruit Logistica, an international fresh produce exhibition held annually in Berlin, Germany.

In a talk hosted by trend watchdogs thefoodpeople, Morgan Griffiths, business development manager, outlined major food and beverage trends for 2017 and 2018. It was there that he announced the return of carbs, highlighting bread, pasta, and – yes, potatoes – as comeback carbs.

“After their recent demonization, carbs are back on the menu and we couldn’t be more pleased,” Griffiths said. “The comfort of carbs is returning and we’re embracing a new era in bread and pasta, as well as a return to centuries-old processes and craftsmanship.”

What was it that took carbs off our plates in the first place? Griffiths points to the popularity of low-carb diets, while Charlie Greenslade of the British Potato Trade Association blamed a lack of time for food preparation. Instead, he said, they’re choosing quicker options, like pasta and rice. He also pointed to the stigma that potatoes are fattening. “It is nonsense,” he told the Times in a recent interview. “My parents’ generation fought the war on potatoes and none of them were obese.”

But potatoes may not be the fatty fiends that health officials once claimed they were. According to a recent report from the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no association between potatoes and cardiovascular disease. In fact, they concluded that potatoes could indeed be a part of a healthy diet.

The studies’ results coincide with research conducted by Potatoes USA. “The research we’ve been conducting in the last couple of years [shows] that consumer perception of the potato is actually improving quite a bit,” Potato USA president Blair Richardson said in a recent talk at the International Crop Expo in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

This news comes at a good time for Potatoes USA, as the organization recently switched marketing tactics from a defensive position to a more offensive one.

“We’re not just saying it’s okay to eat potatoes,” said Richardson. “We’re using the research that the Alliance for Potato Research and Education group and that we ourselves have put together.”

The comeback was particularly evident at Fruit Logistica where international processors showcased a variety of potato products to prospective buyers. At one booth, visitors were asked to stop and taste a new potato product, Parmentine’s Cup. The microwaveable cup contains snack-sized new potatoes, a small fork, and a dipping sauce in the package’s lid. The product targets younger, more on-the- go clientele.

Processing equipment companies have taken notice too. Many were showcasing new products – sorters, peelers and cutters – to would-be customers at Fruit Logistica. Some have even partnered up with complementary companies in order to offer field to freezer solutions. Tolsma-Grisnich, for instance, partnered with Kiremko at the trade fair, strategically setting up their stands side by side. The two companies also work in collaboration with Idaho Steel Products and Reyco Systems, a brand owned by Idaho Steel. Brian Scott, sales and marketing manager at Reyco Systems, said that the partnership allows them to better serve their clientele.

“Between all of those companies we supply all sorts of processed potato equipment around the world, but in particular North America,” he said. “We’re all partners and we all work together.”

“Together we can take a raw potato through processing all the way to the freezer in some way, shape or form,” said Scott.

The partnering companies have also taken note of three trends contributing to the rise in potato consumption. “Probably the number one, biggest trend that’s driving our business is the fact that McDonald’s and other companies now offer all-day breakfast,” Scott said. “That allows people to order basically hash brown potatoes all day long.”

Another trend the partnership spotted is chefs’ use of different processed potatoes, including tater tots and fried hash browns, as the base of a meal. “That’s driving a lot of growth in that particular part of the processed potato industry,” said Scott.

The third trend they’re seeing is the continued growth of the refrigerated mashed potato market. “The consumer can bring it home from the store, heat it up in the microwave or in a container in the over, and it’s a very quick, pre-packaged mashed potato,” Scott explained.

Whatever is the reasoning behind it, one thing is for certain: carbs are back. And as Griffiths said in his presentation at Fruit Logistica, we couldn’t be more pleased.

— Melanie Epp, contributing writer