Through thick and thin: Maximising chip sales

By Lesley Foottit

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Chips, French fries, Potato, Mccain foods

Through thick and thin: Maximising chip sales
National Chip Week runs from 20 to 26 February this year and the Potato Council has made it even easier to generate interest in your chips.

The Choice Chip Awards are designed to recognise and reward the quality chips served in independent pubs and winning a Choice Chip honour will give pubs a platform from which to promote the week.

To take part, register by emailing puvcjrrx@cbgngb.nquo.bet.hx​ and all pubs will be entered in the awards and sent PoS material to encourage customers to vote. Every region will have a champion named, with one overall national winner crowned. Visit www.potato.org.uk/pubsandrestaurants​ for more details.

“This is a really exciting opportunity for pubs,” says Kate Cox, National Chip Week campaign manager. “The awards will not only drive awareness and publicity, but build customer loyalty and boost sales that can last long after National Chip Week is over.”

The council recommends introducing chunky chips, skinny fries, spicy wedges with an array of dips and sauces to wow customers.
Highlighting where chips are home-made, a particular variety, or presented uniquely is always worth doing. Other ideas include chip-themed menus, sharing platters, special promotions and quizzes.

The council has created a ‘chip quiz’ to make it easy for publicans to put on an event. Visit www.chips.lovepotatoes.co.uk for more information, recipes and ideas.

Donna Rowbottom, McCain Foods’ marketing manager says: “Chips can be a great way for operators to generate additional spend and National Chip Week is a fantastic opportunity to highlight chips on the menu.

"Running promotions to incentivise customers to purchase chips and a pint together, or offering free chip upgrades throughout the week are simple to implement and work well.”

Pub activities

The four-site operator Moleface Pub Company is already gearing up for National Chip Week. One of its sites, the Lord Nelson in Burton Joyce, Nottinghamshire, sells a range of chip side dishes: chips & gravy (£3), cheesy chips (£3.50), chips & chilli (£4.45) and chips & curry sauce (£3).

Lamb.Weston.Canal.Station.1

Across all four pubs, up to 1,000 portions of chips are sold each week. Of these, around 300 are chips & chilli, 300 chips & gravy, and 200 each of the cheesy and curry sauce varieties. Plain chips cost £3.

“All staff are briefed that it is National Chip Week and are told to upsell when taking an order from the customer,” says the Lord Nelson’s general manager Dean Thacker.

Moleface chips are cooked twice, once at 140°C and then to order at 180°C for a crisp finish.

Sweet success

Sweet potato fries are growing in popularity across foodservice as a more premium product offering customers something different. Both Lamb Weston and McCain Foods supply them and they are worth testing to see if customers approve.

McCain estimates that pubs could make an extra £400m by “simple extensions to their menus”, such as a trade-up option of sweet potato fries. Shepherd Neame pubs recently added the product as an accompaniment to ribs but had such a positive reception it rolled them out across its menu and estate.

Head development chef for Shepherd Neame Simon Howlett says: “It’s been so popular with customers we now have it on as a side and as a premium trade-up option, with steak and burgers. Next we’ll look at offering it as an alternative to all the other dishes we serve with chips.”

Craig Vit, licensee of the Cricketers Arms in Wisborough Green, West Sussex, puts Lamb Weston sweet potato fries on the bar at busy times with dips such as sweet chilli, ketchup and garlic mayonnaise and there has been a positive reaction. “Everyone loves the bar chips,” says Vit. “For all ages, men and women, they go down a storm.”

Bottomless chips

Sometimes chips are so moreish one portion is not enough. Whitbread identified the problem and introduced bottomless chips at its Beefeater Grill sites last July following a trial.

They are available with most main courses already served with chips and are part of the price of the meal. Customers can request extra chips at no additional charge, which are brought over in bowls.

“The bottomless chips option was introduced following a trial in our research and development restaurants,” says a spokesman.

“The idea behind the launch was to offer customers something new, different and even better value. Take-up varies by site but across all houses we’ve seen lots of customers asking for extra chips.”

All chips are served bottomless, including side orders with a choice of plain or spicy. “Plain are more popular but as more customers are starting to experiment with our new steak butters and seasonings we are also finding that customers are trying the spicy option for some additional flavour.

MUST.USE.McCain.Sweet.Potato.Fries.with.steak

Some people are taking advantage of the bottomless chips option to try an extra bowl of seasoned chips.”

American influence

Inventive Leisure wants to see a 25% growth in food sales at its Revolution bars by the middle of the year. To reach that goal, it has taken inspiration from offers in places across the world including Denver, Colorado.

The company’s new Denver Fries dish was inspired by chief executive Roy Ellis after a trip to Denver. He tried poutine, a French-Canadian dish with cheese curds, fries and gravy, which is popular in Quebec and other Canadian provinces.

Two versions feature on the winter menu: peppered steak & cheese (£8.25) and garlic mushroom (£7.25) with a cream sauce. Both are served in miniature paella dishes and heaped with either tender steak, creamy peppercorn sauce and gooey melted cheese or Portobello mushrooms sautéed in garlic and topped with gooey cheese and parsley.

The dishes have proved popular and will be kept on the spring/summer menu.

Add value

Chips are a basic but well-loved snack that will go with virtually any flavour. That means it is easy to add value. A common well-loved combination is cheesy chips.

The Parson Woodforde, a freehold in Weston Longville, Norfolk, serves a side of plain chips for £2.50 and a side of cheesy chips for £3.50. Head chef Nick Hare says adding cheese costs between 22p and 27p extra and so the price is raised by £1 to meet his GP margins of 65% to 70%.

The pub sells between 30 and 50 portions of plain chips and 20 and 40 portions of cheesy chips every week, getting through 225kg of Maris Pipers.

The potatoes are peeled, washed, cut, blanched and fried in long-life vegetable oil before being fried again to order. “The decision to use vegetable oil is governed by price, length of life and flavour. A lot of our customers will order a side of chips or cheesy chips when they are having a drink at the bar or to accompany a lighter menu option, and cheesy chips are popular with children.

“I do think home-made chips are better and healthier.” Hare buys in ketchup, brown sauce and mayonnaise and ma

denver.fries.steak.sml

kes all other sauces in house, such as sweet chilli jam and tartare sauce.

Get experimental

The chip is a versatile addition to any menu and a little experimenting can pay dividends. The Red Lion at Stathern, Leicestershire, serves up game chips with its roast Vale of Belvoir partridge, buttered leeks & roast root vegetables (£16.50).

Olive Inns co-owner Ben Jones explains: “They’re more like fresh crisps than chips — like little Pringles with holes in. They are cut very thinly in a criss-cross pattern and deep-fried. They are a traditional accompaniment to partridge.”

Customers can also enjoy a bowl of game chips at the bar with a drink for £2.

The Red Lion serves normal chips cooked in either beef dripping or vegetable oil so vegetarians can eat them. Beef dripping is more expensive but adds to the flavour of the chips. The menu highlights the way the chips are cooked and they can be ordered as a side dish for £3. For events, fish and chips are served in a cone at £10 per head.

“Ours are just proper pub chips — nice and crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside, as we believe they should be.” The chips are blanched in the fryer at 140°C and cooked to order at 180°C. Chips may seem like a finished product, but for a creative chef there are options.

Be different

Private lease the Mark Addy in Salford, Manchester, serves around 300 portions of chips a week at £3 each. Executive head chef and owner Robert Owen Brown serves them with a pot of tarragon sauce as a take on Béarnaise — the sauce that

Potato.Council.gourmet.burger.1

goes with steak.

Most chips sold as a dish are served with steak, such as the rib-eye steak and duck-fat chips with field mushrooms & tangy tarragon butter sauce (£15.95).

“Serving with tarragon sauce as opposed to something like ketchup means our chips are something a bit different,” says Brown. “Our chips are all homemade and cooked in duck fat, which gives them a lovely flavour. We always have duck on the menu so have a good supply of duck fat, making it cheap as well.” The pub achieves a GP of 72% on chips.

The Pigs in Edgefield, Norfolk, also adds a little something to its chips.

On its ‘Iffits’ menu — a collection of lighter bites and sharing plates — it lists its hand-cut chips with smoked Norfolk Dapple cheese shavings and homemade tomato ketchup (£6.95 for two, including any other dish on the list). Side orders of chips are served plain for £3.

“We cook them in beef dripping because the flavour and smell is 100 times better,” says chef-landlord Tim Abbott. “It is even a bit cheaper.”

The Pigs thrice-cooks its chips for crispness and fluffiness.

Spirit Pub Company’s value brands, including Flaming Grill, recently introduced a criss-cross chip to encourage guests to trade up. Product development manager Jason Radbourn says: “The chip has helped increase our average spend per head and we are averaging 75 trade-up portions per week in each venue. Guest feedback on this has been great.”

In its Taylor Walker and Chef & Brewer concepts sweet potato fries and sea salt & balsamic vinegar seasoning have been introduced.

McCormick.Spicy.Potato.Wedges

Presentation tips

Gone, or nearly gone, are the days of the two-by-two stacked up chip. Fussy presentation fails to impress diners anymore, but there are still imaginative ways of putting food on the plate. Shepherd Neame, which recently introduced sweet potato fries, serves them in galvanised buckets.

This is a popular method of showing off a more premium product. The pubs charge a £1.75 trade-up cost from regular chips.
Aviko general manager for UK and Ireland Mohammed Essa says: “The quality of the side dish can help to upsell the main.”

Lamb Weston, which supplies a range of chips, has a wealth of striking presentation ideas. Caspar Gesthuizen, trade marketeer for north-west Europe & UK, says: “Traditional chunky chips look great served in quirky containers like steel baskets and lined flower pots — especially when the meal is served on a slate tile or wooden board.”

He suggests that pubs provide a separate barista-style menu solely for chips. There is certainly enough scope for doing this with straight chips, curly chips, different spices and seasonings, potato varieties and special or limited editions, all offered at different prices.

New products

Pub chefs should examine the products on the market and decide what would best suit their clientele. Aviko has launched two premium additions to join its fries family — Superlongs and Skin-on Superlongs. The new range is aiming for a more home-made artisan feel.

McCain recently launched Staycrisp fries to answer a demand for pre-seasoned chips. Its research found consumers complained of chips being too pale, bland, not crispy enough or that they went cold too quickly.

The company is also bringing out gastro chips — “golden brown, premium hand-cut style chips with a unique taste and texture.”

McCain chips in with tips

McCain Foods believes certain chips work best with different dishes. Ideas include:

  • Staycrisp or Thin-Cut Fries with burgers
  • Thin-Cut Fries or crinkle-cut chips with kids’ menus
  • Wedges with wraps, sandwiches and sharing platters
  • Sweet Potato Fries as a side or upgrade
  • Gourmet (chunky-cut) chips with steak
  • Traditional (medium-cut) or Chippy (irregular cut) with fish

Healthier chips

  • Steam chips before frying instead of twice or thrice-frying
  • Serve fat chips instead of thin to reduce fat absorption
  • Drain chips before serving, perhaps in a chip scuttle
  • Filter frequently
  • Use good-quality vegetable oil
  • Use a powerful fryer with fast-heat recovery times

Source: Paul Hickman, Lincat’s development chef

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