Frozen Potato Market: sweet, real and rustic

New ingredients and formats, along with an emphasis on the ‘real’ and ‘rustic’, are some of the hallmarks of product innovation in the frozen potato category over the last two years, as the latest insights from Gama Compass™ reveal.

Despite representing a relatively small fraction of NPD within the overall retail frozen food space – only 4% of total launches in the last two years, according to Gama Compass™ data – the frozen potato category nevertheless continues to exhibit a degree of dynamism and creativity when it comes to product innovation, with modern launches aligning to demand among consumers for more adventurous formats and flavours (most notably through the rise of sweet potato), ‘natural’ and ‘local’ ingredients, and more sophisticated and ‘gourmet’ offerings. The category also continues to benefit from its accessibility in terms of price, with Gama Compass™ data also showing that, globally, average price points in frozen potato products remain at less than half that of frozen foods as a whole, specifically when it comes to new product introductions in the category since 2014.

HITTING A SWEET SPOT

Innovation in the frozen potato space continues to be driven by a voracious appetite for new and more premium ingredients and flavours, and there is no better demonstration of this in recent times than the rise of one ‘star’ ingredient in particular – sweet potato. Remarkably, sweet potato featured in 16% of all frozen potato launches reported by Gama over the last two years, indicating the extent to which the distant cousin of the traditional white potato is fast entering the mainstream of the frozen potato category, most particularly within western European markets. As just one example, as recently as six months ago leading UK food firm William Jackson extended its established Aunt Bessie’s range to include sweet potato wedges alongside its more conventional potato offerings, later expanding the range to include sweet potato ‘jackets’ and, most recently, sweet potato chips (fries).

Other firms that have been quick to seize on the opportunity offered by sweet potato products include Netherlands-based Aviko, launching sweet potato fries and sweet potato dice for the UK and Dutch markets, and Canadian firm McCain with the release of Sweet Potato Fries made with “real, simple ingredients”. The rise in the fortunes of the sweet potato has even given birth to specialist brands such as the Ireland-based Strong Roots, launched by start-up firm Handy Food Innovation.  With a focus on being “simple tasty and delicious” the firm’s Strong Roots Oven Baked Sweet Potato boasts of being “healthy, nutritious and full of life”, as well as claiming to be low in saturated fat and salt and free from gluten.

CONVENIENCE AND SPECIALITY FORMATS

As the ‘sweet potato’ phenomenon ably demonstrates, the frozen potato category is witnessing a significant degree of diversification when it comes to new flavours and formats, such that conventional oven chips are no longer the overwhelming force in terms of new product development within the category as a whole. Indeed, as Gama Compass™ data reveals, traditional chips accounted for fewer than half of all new launches in frozen potato products over the last two years, as more diverse and modern formats jostle for position with traditional alternatives.

In some cases – such as recent launches from UK supermarket chain Tesco including ready prepared Sweet Potato Chunks, and Mashed Potato that “cook[s] from frozen in 3.5 minutes” – the focus is undoubtedly on greater convenience through reduced preparation, but in other cases these new formats are more aimed at providing greater variety and sophistication through gourmet and premium offerings. McCain, for instance – the standout firm when it comes to new product activity in the frozen potato space in the last two years – has introduced launches such as Prinzess Kartoffeln, a product for the German market that takes the form of “swirls” of seasoned potato and contains only 2.5% fat. McCain itself cites an increased interest in more ‘speciality’ potato products as a key factor in its decision to invest $65 million in its production capacity Canada, noting that specialty products such as hash browns are the fastest-growing segment currently within the overall potato market.

Elsewhere, innovative uses of potato as a frozen food ingredient have been geared particularly to addressing shifting patterns of consumption, specifically with the aim of catering to the rise in ‘sharing’ and ‘snacking’ occasions. French frozen retailer Picard, for instance, has recently debuted a version of the traditional Spanish breakfast food churros featuring a potato-based recipe “enhanced with a hint of emmental”. Meanwhile UK supermarket chains have been especially taken with the idea of potatoes as a party food, with both Iceland and Asda launching potato “dippers” designed for sharing occasions: Iceland’s Potato Dippers come with a salsa dip and are “great for sharing or as a snack”, while Asda Vegetarian Sweet Potato & Red Pepper Dippers are “perfect for snacking” and can be cooked from frozen in just 15 minutes.

RUSTIC AND REAL

A final way in which innovation within the frozen potato category is evolving is by taking inspiration from home-prepared or restaurant-style foods, in a bid to rebrand chips in particular as crafted and gourmet rather than as a homogenous, industrial or mass-produced product. This particular type of reinvention can take a number of forms, but most often plays out through modern pack graphics, typically evoking the pub or restaurant environment, ‘rustic’ and ‘irregular’ formats that mimic hand preparation, as well as an emphasis on local, traceable ingredients.

Among the examples of the ‘rustic’ and ‘real’ in action, French prepared foods firm Lustucru recently added Rustic Cut French Fries, featuring “a chunky and irregular cut for generous and tasty fresh chips”, to its range of chips and potato products. In the UK, on a similar theme, Aviko’s Thick Cut Super Crunch! Oven Chips are promoted as “better than chips” and feature pack graphics that recall a modern ‘gastropub’ setting; similarly Iceland Luxury Maris Piper Chunky Oven Chips picture the product presented as though in a pub-style metal serving bucket.

Over in Norway, meanwhile, Findus has interpreted the ‘rustic’ theme through the launch of Crispy Potato Chips under its Findus Farm brand, which it promotes as being made from “first class Norwegian potatoes… made from real ingredients, grown on selected farms”. The ‘rustic’ theme is carried over to the shape of the chips themselves: an irregular curved design that is said to make the product extra crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, thus offering consumers a more premium taste experience.