SIMPLOT READIES LOWER-FAT FRIES FOR FAST-FOOD:NEW ALL-NATURAL PECTIN PROCESS COULD HAVE EDGE OVER SUBSTITUTES

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Foodservice giant J.R. Simplot Co. will introduce Golden Classic reduced-fat french fries in April, beating H.J. Heinz Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and others to the punch.

Through a patented process that prevents absorption of the oil and fat into the potato by presoaking it in pectin, the $2.5 billion company created a product containing 45% less fat than standard fries.

Simplot said several fast-food chains are planning to test-market the fries but declined to name them. McDonald's Corp., to whom Simplot supplies fries, is not among them at this time.

NO FDA OK NEEDED

The pectin process does not require Food & Drug Administration review as does P&G's Olean fat substitute. Olean currently remains limited to potato chips; other uses will require incremental FDA approval.

Simplot, however, isn't worried about the competition.

`STRONG ADVANTAGE'

"Everything is easy to duplicate in this business, but we feel we have a strong advantage with this proprietary process," said Heidi Glaisyer, VP-sales and marketing.

Heinz's Ore-Ida division has been testing a reduced-fat fry for both retail and foodservice use. But a spokesman said an introduction remains "a little bit down the road."

While P&G declined comment on Simplot's announcement, Burt Flickinger, director at Price Waterhouse & Co., said Golden Classic "could have a significant impact on [P&G's plans]. Consumers are going to buy all-natural with no side effects."

30 cents HIGHER PRICE

Simplot said its testing found consumers preferred the reduced-fat fries over regular fries by 15%. Prices will be 10 to 30 cents higher than regular fries, the company said.

French fry consumption rose 9%, to 6.9 billion pounds, in 1995, according to the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association's IFMATRAC service.

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