When U.S. President Thomas Jefferson first served "Potatoes fried in the French manner" at an 1802 White House dinner, how likely was it dignitaries and guests entertained that evening were aware just how profound the culinary impact these thin strips of deep-fried, lightly-salted potato would be to the New World-ultimately the whole world?
Obviously, President Jefferson's introduction was a resounding success. Fast-forward 100-plus years, and U.S. fries were well on their way to reaching icon status thanks to the advent of quick-service restaurants (QSRs), and the successful commercialization of frozen shoestring potatoes by processors like J.R. Simplot Company, Con-Agra Foods Lamb Weston, McCain Foods, Heinz/Ore-Ida and Cavendish Farms. Today, fast-food restaurant customers in Oak Brook, Ill., enjoy U.S. fries of the same taste and quality as those served in San Bernardino, Calif.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; or any other north, south, east or west dot on the map.
What's more American than fries? As the United States Potato Board (USPB) Export Program initiates market development programs for U.S. potatoes and potato products, is there a more effective ambassador than U.S. fries? U.S. frozen potatoes represent more than 50 percent of all U.S. potato exports. U.S. fries in shoestring, crinkle-cut, curly, steak or waffle-cut forms are the majority of all U.S. frozen potato product exports.
International customers share the reverie surrounding U.S. fries at QSRs in their home countries. They enjoy the novelty of western culture and creating their own interpretations of American fast-food. They are caught up in the nostalgia surrounding 1950s-themed drive-ins and diners and their taste for burgers and fries can be insatiable. Here are just a few examples of how the USPB is winning international consumers with U.S. fries.
Four Philippine restaurants teamed-up for the first "Burger and US Fries Festival." The USPB Philippine Representative Office implemented this event-a tie-in promotion concept encouraging hamburger restaurants to offer new U.S. fry products on their menus. Four burger chains partnered with the USPB: Big Better Burgers, National Sports Grill, New York Fries & Dips and Stackers Burger Café.
These participating burger chains were required to include at least two new frozen potato items on their menus during the month-long promotion period. The USPB Representative for the Philippines published a series of advertorials in a leading newspaper to announce the festival and to include information about the participating restaurants. The ads featured the logos of each restaurant, along with the USPB logo.
Posters and flyers were produced and distributed to passersby near the burger chains' vicinities. Placemats were also made for use inside the restaurants to inform patrons of the promotion. As needed, the USPB's Filipino food engineer conducted on-site training at the chains' outlets to ensure the perfect U.S. fries.
The "Burgers and US Fries Festival" was successful in launching new U.S. frozen potato products with the select burger restaurants. A direct result was the launch of six new U.S. specialty fries at three participating restaurants, while the fourth chain offered both wedges and curly-fry products to patrons at the same time.
Two chains decided to each add the favored specialty fry to their permanent menus, due to overwhelmingly positive response by their customers. Another chain reported increasing its sales by 100 percent and extended the promotion an additional month due to positive customer response. They are also working with their supplier to put both promotional cuts on their permanent menus.
This event was so successful the USPB Philippine Representative Office decided to sponsor a second "Burgers and US Fries Festival." New U.S. fry products were offered during the promotional period by the following restaurants: Brothers Burger, Big Better Burgers, The Real Thing Diner, Boulevard Diner, Crave Burger and Drift Burgers.
"We only wish we'd discovered them sooner!" says Lloyd Lustado, owner/operator of Drift Burgers, regarding U.S. frozen potatoes. Pleased with their bigger and longer size, and the fact they have "no after-taste, like an old potato," he also appreciates the wide variety of U.S. frozen potato products to choose from. Drift Burgers typically serves U.S. crinkle cut fries, but during "Burgers and US Fries Festival 2," U.S. Smiley Fries and U.S. frozen baked potato halves topped with taco beef and cheese were offered.
This U.S. Fries Festival concept is also producing results in Indonesia. A "Surabaya US Fries Festival" resulted in cooperative promotions with 28 different restaurant chains-a total of 53 outlets participating. A huge variety of restaurants including Indonesian, Japanese and Korean as well as Western-style restaurants such as a gelato shop, a coffee café and a pub launched an array of fries with both Western-style influences as well as a local flavor twist. Twelve restaurants added U.S. specialty cut frozen potato products to their menus, 14 restaurants switched from non-U.S. frozen potatoes to serving these same U.S. specialty cut products, and five restaurants that never before served fries introduced them. A total of 76 new recipes involving U.S. frozen potatoes were created during this promotion.
Making the Meal
Some of the newest foodservice establishments in Korea are giving U.S. fries main-dish prominence. These "potato only" specialty chains seem to be appearing everywhere, serving U.S. fries with flavors and toppings. Hot dogs are sometimes included, but fries are definitely the mainstay.
One chain, called Irish Potato, represents the culture and colloquial wit of the Emerald Isle as romanticized by South Koreans, but the fry and other potato offerings are U.S. frozen potato products. Irish Potato is South Korea's first potato specialty shop with 47 nationwide locations and uses the USPB's marketing materials to educate consumers and promote U.S. potatoes. Miss & Mister Potato, another potato-only specialty chain serving U.S. fries, has expanded to about 40 stores and has worked with the USPB with promotions during store opening demonstrations of U.S. fries to consumers.
Tteokbokki, steamed rice cake, is a popular Korean snack food commonly sold by street vendors, but is also becoming widely available in small shops. Addal, a Tteokbokki chain with 750 stores, previously serving only rice cakes and other traditionally savory and spicy Korean foods, added U.S. fries to its menu. Addal and the USPB are working together on a promotion to showcase U.S. fries in a nationwide launch in all 750 stores.
From burgers and fries to traditional local cuisine, U.S. fries are innovative, versatile and rate highly in taste and quality. Just as President Jefferson's White House dinner guests from centuries ago, new consumers all over the world continue to discover U.S. fries. The USPB shares in the heritage of this successful export and ensures its ambassadorship of the U.S. potato industry is effectively represented.