Customer demand drives growth of new hot chip varieties
WHETHER YOU CALL THEM FRIES OR HOT CHIPS, there’s no denying how popular they remain with customers across the spectrum of foodservice – from restaurants, cafes, pubs and clubs through to takeaways and even healthcare.
But as consumer tastes continue to evolve, the once-humble hot chip has undergone a bit of a makeover – both in presentation and diversity of ingredients.
Gone are the days when potato was the only available option for a hot chip. Sweet potato fries have been a big success since their introduction several years ago, and now there are a range of vegetable chip options to choose from.
Even the traditional potato fry no longer is often no longer served ‘straight’ – with many chefs adding their own distinctive seasonings, or taking advantage of the battered varieties available from major suppliers.
At Club Toukley RSL, chef Alex Patterson uses Edgell Steakhouse Chips, but adds his own dried rosemary seasoning to provide a distinctive touch. “Especially in a club environment, it’s important to serve up a good quality fry – you can’t afford to get it wrong, and if you do your customers will soon let you know!” Alex says. “Adding our own seasoning enables us to influence the final taste and that’s our way of adding our signature to the menu.”
David White, Executive Chef for Simplot Australia which owns the Edgell brand, says the wide range of hot chip varieties available today reflects both the consumer demand for broader choice and the need for foodservice businesses to differentiate themselves from the competition: “I think what’s happened is that as the portfolio of products has diversified, everyone has their favourites whether it’s a 10mm or 13mm Supa Crunch, a Steakhouse fry or a wedge. There’s no right or wrong, and having that variety enables outlets to set themselves apart from each other.
“As a general trend, consumers are looking for food that’s a bit more rustic and authentic. By leaving the skin on a potato chip, for instance, you get a stronger flavour with earthy notes and there’s an authenticity about it – people want to know what they’re eating and they feel better when they’re comfortable it’s a real potato. Skin on fries are currently more of a niche product, but they will suit certain outlets, such as the café market where customers are looking for more of a wholefood experience.”
For the bulk of the market, the battered fry is where it’s at – “batters deliver flavour and consistency and that’s where the market is growing,” David says. “The art of a good batter is when the consumer doesn’t actually register its presence – you shouldn’t be thinking you’re eating a battered chip, but just a tasty chip without noticing why. There are some great batter flavours today, from beer batter to rosemary and sea salt, and smoky barbecue – and I think spicier ones will become more commonplace over time.”
With today’s consumers becoming more adventurous in their food choices, David expects the recently launched Edgell Vegetable Chips – a mix of three different varieties, made from carrot, beetroot and parsnip respectively – will have broad appeal. “I think it’s true to say that people are looking to find the next ‘latest and
greatest’ – it’s the Masterchef effect, consumers are more educated and have a greater interest in food, they want to taste and photograph and judge everything. When sweet potato fries hit the market, there was a lot of debate about how successful they would be, but they turned out to be more popular than anyone had imagined. As a complement to that, we wanted to come up with something completely different – another alternative to potato fries, which would be exciting and distinctive. Beetroot is recognised as a superfood, and people are looking to eat more vegies, so that was a great starting point. And from a practical perspective, carrot, beetroot and parsnip hold their shape well, which makes it easy to cut them into a fry. The colour contrast also makes them a visually appealing trio in the mix – you have the creamy white of the parsnip, the bright orange of the carrot and the deep blood red of the beetroot, so when you put them together it’s a nice earthy, rustic look.
“From a chef’s perspective, it’s quite rare in this space to be able to put something on the table that gives a genuine ‘wow’ effect but I think these products fit the bill – they look different, they’re handcut as if you’ve made them yourself in the kitchen, so they tick a lot of boxes. And even though they’re fries, because they’re vegies people see them as a healthier indulgence.”
David uses the terminology of ‘the second chip’ to describe Vegetable Chips’ place on the menu. “Your regular potato fry is your first chip and these can take the place of being a ‘second chip’ alternative. Sweet potato fries have been filling that role for a long time, but instinct tells me that Vegetable Chips are going to be a big customer drawcard across pubs, clubs and cafes. Not only do they present and taste great but they are versatile enough to serve as a snack or a side. A lot of chefs I’ve spoken to in the trade have said they’re planning to use them as a complement for roast lamb or beef – so you have one product in the freezer that can serve two uses, as a tasty and on-trend side dish and also an accompaniment for roasts. The beauty of these is that they’re made from vegetables, so they do have a flavour profile – as opposed to regular potato fries which can be quite neutral. When you eat these there’s no doubt you’re eating parsnip, carrot or beetroot – they’re good, flavoursome vegetables and that shines through in the taste experience.”