Autumn 2010: Perfect potatoes

12/04/2013 11:04
There is more to the humble spud when it comes to menu solutions as proved by potato specialist Aviko.

When your products have come under scrutiny four times by the Craft Guild of Chefs’ examiners and each time has passed the test to receive the Guild’s coveted product endorsement, it’s something to shout about.

That’s certainly what frozen potato supplier Aviko has done. Its Super Mash, Pure Mash, all five varieties of its gratin range and its roast potatoes were rigorously tested by chefs and approved, but the company hasn’t rested on its laurels and is still working hard in the NPD department to bring more products to market.

The potato category is a fairly buoyant one. Figures from market analyst Mintel show that the potato category was worth £1.7m in 2009, up by 27% since 2004. Fresh accounts for 65% by value, but frozen chips account for 20% and chilled potatoes just 2%, but the latter are among the top performers.

Aviko says 2009 was its best year yet, highlighted in its brand awareness survey that showed usage among respondents tripled from 3% in 2007 to 9% in 2009. At its facility in Steenderen, in Holland, there is a raft of product development and the key is of course the quality of the potatoes it uses. Aviko’s hand selected large jacket potatoes are used for one of its latest lines, the veggie burger.

This is made using mashed potato mixed with onions, carrots, sweetcorn, peas and broccoli coated in crumb.

But out of all the company’s vast repertoire, product manager Elise Hylkema says you can’t beat the gratins. “Our range of gratins succeeded in gaining the Craft Guild’s endorsement. People think mash is a plain product but I am very proud of this product. Mash is perfect for the market, especially during the recession, because there is a resurgence of comfort food and traditional British cooking,” she explains.

This view is borne out by Mintel senior food and drink analyst Ben Perkins. He says: “Recent economic conditions have provided an ideal opportunity for the industry to tap into trends such as nostalgia and indulgence. As the recession has progressed, British consumers have been turning to classic comfort food, many of which use potatoes as a key ingredient such as fish and chips, bangers and mash, and shepherd’s pie.”

But it’s not just about what the consumer wants, it’s also about what chefs want and need, Hylkema adds. “Caterers are becoming more interested in adding potato options. They are opening this area up so there is more of an emphasis on specialities. People want a point of difference and chefs want their menus to stand out.”

In September, the company introduced patatas bravas and a new recipe for spicy jacket wedges, the latter being spicier and gluten free.

Hylkema says a new idea may originate from a customer’s request or the company has identified a gap in the market for a particular product. But the secret is all in the potato. Good seed potatoes and storage are essential. The company stores around 5,000 tonnes of potatoes and has equipment that keeps the temperature low.

When it comes to new categories, steam fresh products is one that needs to be pushed, according to Hylkema. These are cooked, vacuum packed, gas packaged and wrapped, and are perfect as they are packed with vitamins and have a short preparation time.

“In the UK, there’s a real job to educate caterers about the benefits of steam fresh in order to grow the market, and I think it’s still in its infancy,” she says.

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