Uncover how McCain Foods is helping foodservice outlets to deliver consistently delicious chips made from British grown potatoes

Chips have the potential to make or break a meal,” opens Richard Jones, Vice President Commercial Foodservice at McCain Foods GB. “When you go out to eat, most options on the menu come with chips on the side, and you can almost guarantee that someone in the group will pick up and taste a chip before everyone else’s plates arrive. That first taste can make or break that individual’s experience, so getting chips right both on-premises and off-premises is crucial.”

From hashbrowns to chips, more commonly known as fries among a US audience, McCain is a renowned household name that needs no introduction. As the UK’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products, many people across the globe have had the pleasure of experiencing a McCain chip in all its crispy yet fluffy, flavorsome glory – and not just at home.

However, far less people are familiar with McCain’s foodservice offering, even though they’ve likely tasted one of its products at many of the UK’s renowned food outlets, from premium pubs and hotels to fast-food restaurants. To delve deeper into this side of the business, we’re lucky enough to sit down with Richard, who shares his insight into the company’s foodservice operations and the challenges of potato farming in a volatile climate.

“From a retail perspective, McCain has a strong presence in our customers’ homes, but we’re far less known in the out-of-home sector,” he states. “We don’t market our out-of-home offering to consumers, but to operators and distributors instead, so consumers are often unaware that there are hundreds of venues across the UK serving McCain products. Our portfolio spans a number of occasions and sectors, including, hotels, restaurants, pubs, contract catering and fast-food outlets.”

Research and innovation
To cater to such a wide array of customers, McCain has five key foodservice ranges – Our Original Choice, Our Menu Signatures, Our Chef Solutions, SureCrisp, and P!ckers. “Our Chef Solutions range caters to the more health-conscious side of the market,” Richard details. “Our Original Choice offers an entry-level, uncoated chip for trade customers, whereas Our Menu Signatures provides premium products to on-premises locations. P!ckers, on the other hand, offers a range of cheese, appetizers, and vegetable solutions for off-premises and fast-food occasions.

“SureCrisp, the newest of our brands, has experienced tremendous success alongside the growth of the off-premises and delivery market, especially in the wake of the pandemic. Its invention came about quite simply from consumer dissatisfaction with soggy fries. With the help of our innovation and technical teams, we developed a patented technology that holds the chip’s temperature and crispiness for 20 minutes, allowing operators more control over the quality of their food even when delivered.

“At a global level, our purpose is to celebrate real connections through delicious, plant-friendly food. As part of that, we want to be seen as world leaders in potato and appetizer products. In terms of the foodservice market specifically, we’re focused on creating positive relationships with suppliers who become trusted partners to drive mutual revenue and profit growth, as well as develop a meaningful brand that adds value to their business.

“Our relationships with operators all start with the consumer, as the operator must respond to new demands and emerging trends. Over the last couple of years, we’ve made significant investments at both a global and national level to better understand our consumers. We’ve established a demand space framework centered around the consumers’ occasions, needs, and emotions.

“We concentrate on three different occasions: the first is what we call ‘out with my people,’ referring to a consumer out for a meal with friends or family; ‘socializing at home’, which has grown hugely due to the food delivery phenomenon; and ‘convenient pick me up’ looking at on-the-go options for fast-food outlets. We conduct research by visiting operators to gain a better understanding of what consumers are looking for on each occasion, which we then share with operators to identify target areas and opportunities for growth.

“Spending time at our customers’ locations is crucial to creating a strategic relationship, as it enables us to develop products that not only cater to the consumer but also work alongside operational requirements. We have test kitchens at all our sites, but our Scarborough site features the biggest development kitchen in our portfolio, with two chefs dedicated to research and innovation.”

Cutting-edge technology
A great example of one such relationship is McCain’s recent partnership with one of the UK’s largest pizza operators to assist with the launch of chips across their national operation. “We had to consider several factors, such as consumer demand for warm, crisp chips and the operational limitations of a pizza oven,” Richard recalls. “We overcame the first challenge using our innovative SureCrisp solution, but we had to work closely together to develop a product that could be cooked in an impingement oven, to tackle the second factor. This was arguably our biggest launch in the foodservice space, so it was great to collaborate and explore a unique proposition that meets the needs of both the consumer and the operator.”

This ethos extends to relationships with suppliers too. McCain works in partnership with British potato farmers, fostering grower relationships based on trust and collaboration. “The potato is inevitably at the heart of everything we do at McCain,” Richard continues. “As the largest purchaser of British potatoes, we partner with around 250 growers across the UK, many of whom we’ve worked with for three generations.

“We’re massively reliant on the potato crop, but navigating the ever-changing agricultural dynamic is actually one of my favorite parts of the role. It’s challenging at times, but we’ve recently invested £170 million into our UK production facilities to ensure we are using the best available technology for potato manufacturing. We’ve enhanced our control measures to the point where we know exactly what field the potato was grown in and when it was harvested.”

The McCain difference
Recognizing the importance of ever-evolving consumer demands and trends in the foodservice arena, McCain has an ongoing innovation plan to ensure its products remain relevant for years to come. “We’re passionate about innovation and we believe there is still so much opportunity within the potato market,” Richard proposes. “We’re constantly looking at new types or cuts of potato and exploring various occasions they would suit. There’s also more to be done on our SureCrisp process, especially as operators move away from basic fries, towards a more premium offering.

“Furthermore, we’ve teamed up and invested in a business called Strong Roots, a retail brand that we’re planning to launch into the foodservice space in 2024. We’re calling this our ‘veg first’ proposition, which will provide consumers with an alternative to the ‘meat mimickers’ that have risen in popularity over the last few years.

“From a commercial perspective, the future of McCain is all about our people,” Richard concludes. “We strive to create a ‘winning culture’ for our employees, suppliers, customers, and partners by embracing authentic family values. The perfect balance of delivering business outcomes while supporting individual development is, for me, the McCain difference.”