Fresh-cut french fries may be making a comeback.
When the Zagat Guide released its list of best fast-food fries in August, Five Guys Burgers and Fries and In-N-Out Burger ranked second and third, respectively, behind McDonald’s. Five Guys and In-N-Out Burger both shun frozen fries, cutting fresh potatoes in all their locations.
Five Guys had only six locations in the mid-1980s but was expected to have 700 by the end of the year with plans to add 250 more in 2011.
The chain’s fresh fries, complete with potato skin and generous portions, have been a hit with consumers, and the larger chains are taking notice, said Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice for the Idaho Potato Commission, Eagle.
In fact, Odiorne said one of the nation’s top five hamburger chains is considering switching back to fresh-cut fries as is a large casual dining chain.
He declined to name either restaurant chain.
“One of the things people are looking at is, ‘How can we replicate this?’” he said of Five Guys’ success. “I didn’t think that would happen where a group goes back to fresh-cut fries after using frozen. I thought it would be hard to move backwards, but the movement to local sourcing and the demand for more of an artisan image could make it happen.”
Some smaller chains also offer fresh-cut fries, including Cincinnati-based Penn Station East Coast Subs, which has more than 200 locations; Columbus, Ohio-based Steak Escape, which has more than 100 locations; and Good Times Burgers and Frozen Custard, Boulder, Colo., which has about 30 locations.
“I think the big chains see some of their business slipping away,” Odiorne said, “especially the customers that like some skin on their fries or support a more homemade taste.”
Odiorne said frozen fries not only are convenient for restaurants, but they also offer a chain consistency through its locations. With fresh-cut fries, a chain is dependent on employees at each location to produce a quality product, he said.
Odiorne said fresh potatoes are cheaper to purchase than frozen fries, but they require more labor and more time to prepare.
Odiorne said the Idaho Potato Commission works with chefs, menu planners and research and development staff to get the message across about Idaho potatoes.
“Potatoes stretch the whole range from being something that’s good as an indulgence to being something that’s healthy,” he said.
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics about per capita consumption, potatoes are more popular than pasta and rice combined. The average American eats 125 pounds of potatoes — including 42 pounds of fresh spuds — per year. That contrasts with 35 pounds of rice and 25 pounds of pasta.