People hate cold, soggy fries, but thankfully that’s now a thing of the past due to new technology.

Ask any fast-foodie what their biggest pet peeve is about french fries and the answer is nearly universal: you have to eat them immediately because once cooled off, they’re terrible. It’s food’s version of a warm, flat beer. Nothing compares to a fresh pack of fries at a fast-food restaurant or out of the oven, but the sensation doesn’t last long.

It’s not that food processors and restaurants alike are unaware of this fact, but they’ve been collectively stymied as to how best to remedy the situation. Until now.

Research on fry freshness has been underway for the last few years and the breakthrough seems to be here. And just in time, too. The COVID-19 pandemic still continues, and some cities are in various states of lockdown, meaning restaurants and pubs across the country are still filling takeout orders at higher than normal rates. As a result, all of these establishments, especially fast-food restaurants, have been delivering like never before, but it still takes time to reach a destination. Now, thanks to ingenuity as to how best engineer the fries at the front end of the cooking process, fry lovers can rejoice for up to 40 minutes with warm fries.

Leading the charge is fry juggernaut Simplot. The Boise, Idaho-based company introduced its Conquest Delivery+ fry, a unique fry for operators that stays hot and crispy — yes, crispy — for up to 40 minutes post cooking. Beyond the initial cooking, these fries are reportedly able to be reheated and stay true to their original form, not carbon-fibre hard.

You ask, how did they do it? The answer is as natural as it is unique. The company researched and successfully created a method to strip the potato of its starch during processing before being reapplied to the product as a clear coating. This coating acts as a heat jacket to maintain temperature and the crispy factor of fries, which come in five different cuts, through Simplot’s proprietary process.

“Coatings have been popular on fries for years, with battered fries and other products gaining market share for some time,” Matt Petersen, Simplot’s director of potato product marketing, says in an email interview. “We think the coating on our (fries) helps the product hold the qualities that people have come to expect from their french fries for longer, and that includes the taste, crispness and heat.”

Matt Petersen
Matt Petersen, Simplot’s director of potato product marketing

Petersen says customers have been asking for longer lasting fries for years and the company is happy to lead the charge. Although he wouldn’t say how much longer Simplot’s fries last compared to others, he does claim the company leads the pack.

Beyond that, the new fries are able to be reheated in a microwave in just 20 seconds if done within an hour of cooking or 30 minutes of delivery, which is good news for both the takeout and home cooking crowds alike.

Already, reality has outperformed expectation and Petersen says he expects that to continue.

“Of course, the demand has been tied in some part to the closing of dining rooms in restaurants because of the pandemic, so hopefully we’re able to continue our return to restaurants and enjoy foods together, but the increased expectations from consumers to get the food they want, where they want it, is not likely to change,” he adds.

No surprise, others have been quick to get in on the action. Wendy’s introduced its longer lasting fries this past fall and company president Kurt Kane says it took four years of engineering to get it right. Lamb Weston, America’s largest fry manufacturer, now has its version of the longer lasting fry, which can keep for 30 minutes.

Given that fries are the primary end-use for Canadian-grown potatoes, it doesn’t come as a surprise that this could be good news for many spud producers, and just in time, too. In 2021, there was a record crop of 123.1 million hundredweight, up 18.2 per cent from 2020. It coincided with seeded acres being the highest since 2007.

Kevin MacIsaac, the general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada, says this is welcome news for every single potato grower in the country.

Kevin MacIsaac
Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada

“If it wasn’t for what (food delivery companies) did for us, our industry would have almost gone to pieces during COVID in the french fry sector,” he explains. “The sit-down portion of restaurants were closed; that only left drive-thru. You can only get so much business in drive-thru.”

Today, MacIsaac notes the french fry industry has bounced back to pre-COVID levels and beyond. Much of that’s also being driven by export to the Asia-Pacific region where fast-food takeout and home delivery has been part of the culture for well over a decade. The only slowdown was supply chain issues surrounding the pandemic, but even that’s becoming more manageable, says MacIsaac, and trade is much freer flowing.

Numbers are expected to increase abroad, but are still going strong domestically, as well. According to Winnipeg-based Skip the Dishes, Canadians takeout habits in 2020 (data not available for 2021) confirmed people stayed home and ordered fries, lots of them. In 2020, Canadian eaters placed more than five million orders which involved french fries and Ontario took home top spot with 730,000 orders, more than any other province.

According to a Skip spokesperson, in 2021, the company added 32 per cent more restaurant partners than it previously had in 2020. As well, it’s now operating in 10 per cent more cities and towns across Canada this year.

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