Vol.4 ISSUE 1 SPRING 2011
New Tokyo, an institutional foodservice company in Tokyo, added baked potatoes, made with US frozen bakers, to their menus. New Tokyo runs 30 different restaurants, as well as managing corporate cafeterias for Toshiba, Mitsui Co., Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, Mitsubishi Motors, NEC and others. Baked potatoes are being served on a number of different dishes instead of rice, using 4 oz frozen baked potatoes. The company was introduced to the product through an advertorial run by the USPB Japan rep, and then follow up meetings with the USPB representative.
In recent years, the focus of the USPB frozen program shifted to new products (US frozen bakers), new channels (corporate cafeterias) and local cuisine initiatives. As a whole, the US frozen potato category spans hundreds of products and has much to offer to both mature and developing markets in terms of opportunities. The addition of value-added products, such as frozen bakers, in marketing efforts has and will continue to help expand market penetration.
Japan remains the largest export market for US frozen potato products. While, little growth potential is expected for the shoestring fry market due to its maturity, work in new channels, with healthy and innovative products, focusing on the needs of the population, has proven its ROI, as evidenced by the addition of US frozen bakers to New Tokyo’s menu in their restaurants and corporate cafeterias.
Consumer cooking classes, featuring US frozen potatoes, are proving to be very popular among Korean housewives. The classes are held at large department and retail stores such as Home Plus, the second largest hypermarket chain in Korea. This brings the total number of USPB-sponsored cooking classes held in 2009/2010 to 16.
Recent classes featured the popular chef, Ms. Kim, Young-Bin, who prepared four recipes:
After opening its first store in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Carl’s Jr. decided to use US frozen potatoes. This well known quick-service restaurant (QSR) sells not only US shoestring fries, but also basket weave and hash browns from the US. A second restaurant has now opened in Ho Chi Minh City, and there are plans to open 25 Carl’s Jr. Units in Vietnam over the next six years. The USPB representative worked closely with the importers and distributors of US frozen potatoes to make sure they won this very important piece of business for US frozen potatoes.
The USPB has carried out in-store promotions at every Carrefour Supermarket ready-to-eat counter in Malaysia. Carrefour has 23 stores in Malaysia, and all of them serve six different US frozen potato products at their ready-to-eat counters. Two of these were new frozen potato products introduced during this promotion and are now a permanent item in their stores due to the success of this activity. The promotions resulted in sales increases of 83%, during the promotion’s four-week period.
International marketing programs like those of the USPB aim to increase export sales for US potato growers, but can also serve a valuable purpose during a market downturn: maintaining a position for US potato products so exports do not decline even further. The past year’s experience in the Mexico market for frozen potato products demonstrates the value of effective marketing strategies during a major market downturn.
In Mexico, US exports were heavily impacted by the imposition of a 20 percent retaliatory tariff on US frozen potato products. This was in response to the cancellation by the US Government of a NAFTA-mandated pilot program allowing Mexican trucks to operate in the United States.
At the same time, Mexico was experiencing economic troubles, making it difficult for former customers to continue purchasing at previous levels, particularly with the new tariff resulting in large price hikes. These factors reduced US exports to Mexico by 41 percent to 45,301 MT during the USPB’s July 2009-June 2010 marketing year. It is a credit to the USPB and US industry’s persistent efforts in the market US exports did not fall even further given the pressures on them.
A case in point: over the past couple years, the USPB conducted visits and regular trade contact with Wendy’s to persuade them of the benefits of using US frozen potatoes. This bore fruit in July 2009 when Wendy’s switched from Canadian to US fries, even though Canadian fries enjoyed a huge price advantage. Wendy’s has 12 outlets in Mexico, and uses approximately 1 million pounds a year of two varieties of frozen potato products. This equated to 454 MT in new sales of US frozen potatoes during the USPB’s July 2009-June 2010 marketing year.
In another example, Domino’s Pizza introduced a “US Potato Soccer Ball” in June 2010 which was a huge hit with customers. Taking advantage of the popularity of the FIFA World Cup, the product was a special launch for this event and was sold under a promotion called “Botaniza,” (“Snacking”). It consisted of a pizza combined with four different sides, among them, “potato soccer balls”, as US frozen potato appetizers. Offered in nearly 600 outlets, the promotions exceeded expectations. Domino’s went through 6,500 boxes of this product, equating to nearly 60 MT, in one month alone.
The Shanghai Rongfei Hotel Management Co., Ltd. was established in 2007 and now has four large Chinese restaurants in Shanghai, with annual sales of RMB80 million Yuan (US$12 million). The USPB representative in China visited this company and introduced the characteristics of US frozen potato products. Upon Rongfei’s request, USPB conducted an on-site training for this company in the same month while a USPB demo chef demonstrated four dishes featuring US frozen products. During the training, Mr. Shou Fuguo, the Executive Chef of Rongfei, and Mr. Zhang Guorong, the General Manager of Rongfei, were impressed by the good mouth feel of the US products presented. Their unique shape was also suitable for regular frying and quick wok frying.
They noted how the US products had a better texture and potato flavor compared with the products from China, Netherlands and Belgium. Inspired by the application ideas from the training, Rongfei’s R&D team developed four new potato dishes to be served in all of their restaurants. At 5,250 servings of these potato dishes in one month, the trial sales were excellent, and Rongfei decided to keep all these dishes on its permanent menu. Rongfei is using US hash browns, US frozen mashed potato, US crinkle cut fries and US potato skins. Rongfei has also developed new dishes using US frozen mashed potato and crosscut fries.
US Potato Dishes Served in Rongfei:
Due to the exposure an importer received while participating in a USPB booth at the Food and Hotel Thailand Show, five new US frozen potato products, under the ALEXIA brand, have launched in three retail chains with outlets throughout Thailand.
The new frozen potato items are Alexia’s Spicy Potato Bites, Alexia’s Potato Bites, Alexia’s Roasted Red Potatoes & Baby Portabella Mushrooms, Alexia’s Roasted Red Potatoes & Italian Inspired Vegetables, Alexia’s Roasted Red Potatoes & Harvest Vegetables.
One of the largest ever USPB Frozen Potato Importer and Distributor Reverse Trade Missions (RTMs) was held in Washington State’s Tri-Cities and Seattle. Thirty-eight of the frozen potato industry’s important clients, as well as USPB foreign staff, traveled to the United States to learn about the benefits and variety of US frozen potato products. They also attended a cold-chain training session which included valuable instruction by US experts specializing in the management of temperature-controlled supply chains to extend and ensure the shelf life of US frozen potato products.
“While RTMs give broad perceptions on US potato production, the real value comes with the introduction of top quality US frozen potato products to importers and distributors,” said Susan Weller, USPB International Marketing Manager—Frozen. “RTMs are valuable industry tools, helping introduce a broad array of US frozen potato products to the international participants. Once they recognize the quality, and the variety of products available, they are next introduced to the reliable US cold-chain distribution system which enables the safe and efficient delivery of these products to foreign customers.”
US frozen potato product importers and distributors from Central America, the Dominican Republic, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam traveled to Washington’s Tri-Cities region for this RTM. They toured a potato harvest on the farm of USPB International Marketing Committee Member Rob Davis. Next, they toured the fresh potato packing facility, and the following day, the RTM group toured their respective frozen potato processing plants and sampled many US frozen potato products.
The following day, the group had a rail-port and trans-loading tour at the Port of Benton in Richland, WA. Touring the trans-loading facility at this port included seeing the Henningsen cold storage unit.
Also during the RTM, the international guests received cold-chain training and education from Sensitech Inc.’s International Program Manager, Jesus Ponce. He presented the basics of cold-chain training practices, as it applies to US frozen potato products. The group also discussed good practices, HACCP and grading, via a USDA inspection officer. The participants also learned valuable first-hand handling techniques from USPB’s Central American food engineer. Following this instruction, the RTM participants had a dynamic cold storage tour of VersaCold Logistics Services in Tacoma, WA, the newest and most high-tech facility in the Pacific Northwest.
One tour participant from Thailand commented, “Touring these cold-chain distribution centers and facilities was an eye-opener to us. We’ll definitely benefit from this first-hand look as we move forward to implement our own cold-chain training programs. We now have an awareness of the challenges we’ll likely face, and we look forward to optimizing information and solutions in our own systems.”
An important part of the USPB International Marketing Program for frozen potato products is the chain training activity. Under this activity employees at individual restaurants receive training by USPB food engineers on proper storage, handling and preparation of US frozen potato products. The training is a three-step process, with the first step being an audit of the current procedures and conditions at the store, the second being the training for the staff and the third a follow-up audit to make sure the proper approaches have been adopted. The final report is then submitted to the restaurant’s management.
The USPB trains restaurants that are part of large international chains, such as KFC, Burger King and TGI Fridays, as well as independent restaurants. The only requirement is that the chain purchase all their frozen potato products from the US. This value added service not only helps assure loyalty to US supplies, but guarantees US fries are of the best quality when they reach the consumer, resulting in repeat sales and increased exports.
Last year, the USPB representatives in Central America, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines and Thailand conducted trainings at 860 outlets from 55 different companies. The audit process showed all outlets had adopted 75 to 100% of the proper procedures.
The frozen process industry kicked off its own variety development program focused on Acrylamide reduction to national potato breeders, research cooperators, program cooperators and industry representatives in Chicago. Scheduled in conjunction with the NCC84 and chip variety development program meeting, this scheduling allowed the most efficient discussion and began the very important alignment of the programs. During the meeting, David Parish, president of AIS Consulting and the USPB Chip Program Manager and manager of the fry variety development program, laid out the new frozen process variety development plan to the researchers at the meeting and received their input.
The Chicago meeting marked the beginning of a new level of cooperation within the French fry industry, whereby the entire industry has rallied behind this new program which has now garnered support from all the major stakeholders in the industry, including producers, state grower groups, processors, researchers and other industry organizations. It is truly groundbreaking cooperation and will set the stage for greater cooperation within, and between, all sectors of the potato industry. With the kick off of the French fry program and the continuation of the USPB Chip Program, it marks a historic moment when almost the entire crop production, process, research and industry support groups have aligned with a single agenda and focus; to identify varieties that have the attributes to lower Acrylamide levels in potato products.
A special thanks needs to go out to all the cooperators that make these things happen. They are too numerous to mention, but without them, none of this is possible. It truly is a
©2011 United States Potato Board