Chips, Fries, French fries, crinkle cut, curly fries, straw fries, steak cut, wedges, triple cooked, cheesy chips, chips ‘n’ curry, chips ‘n’ gravy, oven chips, micro chips, thick chips, thin chips, chips ‘n’ dips, chains and whips – whatever way you like to do it in your business,
it all starts with the humble spud.
There are several hundred varieties of potato grown here in the UK and dozens of varieties grown commercially of which half of them are suitable for frying. If you’re even just the slightest bit interested in knowing anything technical or factual about potatoes and the UK potato market then there is only one website you need to visit. https://potatoes.ahdb.org.uk has the absolute knowledge on how much is planted, what the market is doing, what diseases, challenges and varieties are making headlines. It’s well worth a regular visit to keep up to speed on the spud world.
If you use fresh, contract on or rumble and chip yourself, then you’ll know that in the UK we only have one potato crop per year and the season runs from around late June and back round. Early new varieties are irresistible – like a summer romance and tend to be sweeter. Also, as the skin hasn’t set on them and as they often come straight from the fields they take virtually no time to prepare either. By the time the kids go back to school in September, the main crop has been harvested and stored and the early varieties are gone again for nine months. For the remainder of the season, the quality, price and supply is going to be influenced according to the growing conditions, demand and yield of the lifted crop and when these variables are compromised, then that’s when the market becomes unstable.
If you use a frozen product, then the market for you and challenges in terms of quality and supply tends to evaporate but I’m afraid to say that so does your aspirations for absolute chip perfection because unlike many frozen versions of their fresh alternative, nobody does it batter than when you choose a top notch frying variety of fresh spud. That’s not to say that frozen is bad – quite the contrary. A frozen chip can be far better than a bad fresh chip. In Australia and America, the frozen chip dominates the fast food industries – even in the 8,000 or so fish and chip shops in Oz where the marriage of fish and chips is slightly more skewed towards the fish as the main event and the chips as a support act. In warmer climates, there is more than one crop of potatoes harvested in a year and in Ireland, virtually all potatoes grown there are not frying varieties.
Whatever your choice of fried potato product, there are some clear cut basic rules that apply to every fast food professional to ensure maximum commercial success, growing sales figures and sustainable profitability.
1 – Sell what your customers want to buy
Far too many operators think they know best, but if you actually do your homework and take the time to ask, getting your chips right can literally transform your fortunes. A thicker chip block, five degrees on or off your temperature and 30 seconds on or off your timer can literally transform a limp soggy offering or something you can write with into a crunchy, perfect, fluffy - memory maker. Chips are constantly being reinvented and innovated, for example - the frozen chip market in Europe is currently buzzing with a new concept of flavoured sauces in chip shops as featured at the end of this article.
2 – Pay different attention at the start and the end of the supply chain
The quality at the front end is the key factor in selecting the product you want to sell. Whether it’s a fresh or a frozen product, if you start with a poor quality or average raw product, the very best you can serve to your customer is a poor quality or average cooked one. Buying on price at this stage is a false economy and this becomes even more apparent with fresh spuds. This years crop for example is already under strain and prices are unusually high due to lower yields, some quality issues with pinking and blacking and little surplus in Europe to soften prices. Buying on quality now is more important than ever as saving a pound or two per sack could easily result in customer dissatisfaction and not only that, if you get just one portion less due to cutting away waste, you will be worse off financially too.
At the other end of the supply chain – at point of sale to your consumer, it important to pay attention to your pricing and portion control. Cheaper but not cheap sends out the message of value for money and so does enough but not too much. I’ve seen ridiculous big portions win customers for a while but it’s not sustainable. Quality always wins the long game over quantity and customers who buy on size and price are only ever loyal to themselves. This year the quality shops will do better because the quantity shops wont get the yield or be able to give the big portions cheaply.
3 – Be consistent
Ronald MacDonald was no Clown. The key to success in chip production is to be consistent in exceeding your customers expectations. The question as to whether or not his fries are amazing is easy to answer. They’re consistently good and unmistakably his and that’s what turns a sale into a customer. The whole experience is designed to be consistent. When did you ever have to put a burger down for a minute to let it cool down? When have you ever not found a few extra fries in the bottom of your brown paper bag at the end of your meal? Those loose fries are designed to escape – they’re almost a bonus. Consistency goes to the very heart of what being a fast food professional is all about. It doesn’t stop with the product. It starts with it. It goes into the frying medium, it’s rotation, the cleaning of it, the serving of it and all the due diligence and standards you set in the background.
So there you have it. Buy on quality, not on price. Manage your portions fairly and price yourself at just what people are more than happy to pay. Be consistent in delivering a consistently first class product and service and as long as you’ve got a good location and low fixed overheads, there might be something left for the taxman.