Menu Innovations | November 2010 | By Barney Wolf

These Spuds Aren’t Duds

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But sweet potato fries are more expensive, in part because the potato’s irregular shape causes more waste during processing, says George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co, a Chadbourn, North Carolina, sweet potato grower and shipper.

Nonetheless, “the sales line is going straight up for sweet potato fries,” he says. “We could be up 10 percent” this year.

At Smashburger, Sweet Potato Smashfries were a regional item in the chain’s Dallas stores until interest in them soared when they were featured on a national food program. They were added to the national menu in June.

Like the Denver-based company’s regular Smashfries, the sweet potato version is tossed in olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. The chain, which also features shoestring-cut Russets with sea salt, receives potato products that are frozen and partially cooked, “and that works just fine for us,” says Smashburger founder Tom Ryan.

Another Smashburger regional item, fried pickles, which were sold only in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, market, also made it onto the national menu this year. Additionally, the company offers Veggie Frites, which are flash fried asparagus spears, carrot sticks, and green beans.

White Castle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has sold sweet potato fries as a seasonal item around Thanksgiving and Christmas for several years. Local stores can decide to keep the fries longer if they wish, says company spokeswoman Kim Bartley.

Sweet potato fries are also a seasonal side at Burgerville, the Vancouver, Washington–based fast-casual chain that earned acclaimed for its focus on local products. The fries are typically on the menu from the late summer until about Thanksgiving.

“We are always looking to have at least one alternative to our standard french fries,” says Jack Graves, Burgerville’s chief cultural officer.

The chain offers cross-cut Washington-grown Yukon Gold fries after Thanksgiving, followed by fried portabella mushroom wedges served with garlic aioli; rosemary fries, in which shoestring fries are mixed with olive oil and rosemary; deep fried asparagus; and Walla Walla Sweet Onion Rings, made with onions from northeast Washington.

The best part about these additional sides is that they are not cannibalizing sales of regular french fries.

“When we started selling the Walla Walla onion rings, we noticed an incredible positive response, but no change in fry sales,” Graves says. “We discovered that people wanted more than just standard fries. They like variety.”

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