NewsBusinessDo You Want Fries With That?

Do You Want Fries With That?

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Taking a bite out of the trends in the Canadian foodservice industry.

People love french fries, and we have the statistics to prove it. Will that hold up over time? What other food items are elbowing their way in? Is there room for potatoes in other menu categories? Vince Sgabellone, Foodservice Industry Analyst at Circana provides a dose of reassurance, caution and encouragement to those in the potato industry.

In Canadian foodservice, french fries are the most consumed food menu item with 1.2 billion servings every year. The servings grew by nine per cent in 2023 and represented 72 per cent of all potatoes served.

But growing even faster are the unique fries. There was a 22 per cent increase in curly fries, waffle fries, and wedge potato servings.

“People are looking for things that are different,” explained Sgabellone. “They are a small subset of the whole fry universe, but they are growing faster than the traditional cut fry. This means there’s room for innovation, even in a mature menu category like french fries, and consumers will respond well to those new things.”

Menu toppers can’t get complacent, though. Brewed coffee is the most popular menu item, topping french fries, but coffee is not increasing in servings.

“During the pandemic people weren’t leaving the house,” Sgabellone explained. “They weren’t going out for coffee. It’s recovered somewhat, but it’s still on a downward trend trajectory. Why? Because specialty coffees are taking over. Hot specialty, cold specialty, other types of beverages that are not coffee are taking over.”

Soft drinks, the number three menu item after french fries, are also in decline.

Coffee and soft drinks are legacy menu categories. They haven’t changed much over time, and they’re being pushed down as new beverages start pushing their way in for a piece of the market.

Are potatoes immune? Maybe not.

Vince Sgabellone, Foodservice Industry Analyst at Circana

Sgabellone turned his focus to the older representatives of Gen-Z, aged 19-27. This demographic is statistically the least likely to order fries, but even more than that, they are looking for very specific niche items.

“They’re looking for things like high protein,” said Sgabellone.

“They’re looking for plant-based menu items. They’re looking for organic. While it’s still a niche, these are emerging trends to keep an eye on in the coming years.”

Veggie-forward meals including stir fries, salads, and veggie burgers were up 13 per cent.

Typical ‘host’ foods for French fries such as sandwiches and burgers, were only up by six per cent

“So, there’s more demand for plant based,” said Sgabellone. “Is there room to insert potatoes into that discussion? Right now, plant-based seems to be about bean-based, or the pulses, or grain-based. But you don’t see a lot of potato forward plant-based menu items.”

Just a few weeks after the conference, A&W launched a potato patty burger.

“That’s the sort of thing I’m thinking about,” Sgabellone said. “How do you insert potatoes into these new emerging trends? How do you be new and different and exciting? As popular as french fries are, they’re not necessarily going to be that fast growth item forever.”

An emerging trend right now is bowls – grain bowls, salad bowls, burrito bowls or poke bowls. Many are focused in South Asian or Mediterranean cuisine.

“None of them have potatoes,” said Sgabellone. “They’re all largely grain-based or vegetable-based. The plants in them are not potatoes.”

Fries may hold on to their number one spot, but there is a chance that these emerging categories will take a piece of their market share.

“It’s important for the incumbents and the people who depend on those markets to make sure that they keep up with the times,” Sgabellone said. “You’ve got to continue to evolve, stay fresh and relevant.”

Vince Sgabellone provided 2023 statistics sourced from Circana, CREST®.  Sgabellone presented on this same topic at this year’s Manitoba Potato Production Days.

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