new potato development for McD's French Fries
Race is on to invent latest French fry spud for McDonalds.
KIMBERLY, Idaho -- From the fields of Idaho to tasting rooms in suburban
Chicago, potato farmers, researchers and industry representatives are in the
midst of an elusive hunt: finding a new spud for McDonald's French fries.
Seven years have passed since the fast-food giant last added a new U.S.
potato variety to three previously approved for its golden fries, something
that both irks and motivates potato researchers who hope their progeny will
Because McDonald's buys more than 3 billion pounds of potatoes annually
across the globe, it has the power to dictate whether a variety sprouts or
winds up in the less-lucrative supermarket freezer's crinklecut bin -- or
worse yet, banished to become dehydrated taters.
"It's a card game where McDonald's holds nine-tenths of the cards," said
Jeanne Debons, the Potato Variety Management Institute's director.
The institute was established in 2005 by the Idaho, Oregon and Washington
potato commissions to handle licensing and royalties from new potatoes
developed at universities and federal research facilities in the three
An unwritten ambition: to get new potato varieties looked at by McDonald's.
The company still relies on the Russet Burbank for many of its fries, even
though this 130-year-old variety takes an eternity to mature, gulps water
and falls victim to rots and other diseases, meaning farmers must douse it
in chemicals. Socially conscious investors want McDonald's to help cut
pesticides to protect the environment and farmworker health.
Still, coming up with a spud stud is no mean feat: One of the last varieties
McDonald's tested, the Premier Russet, has a pedigree that on paper
resembles the lineage of a thoroughbred race horse, with ancestors like the
buff-skinned Penobscot of Maine. The company decided it was an also-ran.
"It has a smaller starch cell," Mitch Smith, McDonald's agricultural
products director, recalls of tasters' conclusions about the Premier. "You
get a smoother texture, it does affect the way it eats."
Other U.S. potato-growing regions are also on the case. In July, researchers
and industry reps meeting in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., home to the U.S. Potato
Gene bank, discussed new sustainable varieties -- all to help McDonald's
advertise that potatoes they serve are produced with less chemicals and
To be sure, McDonald's has increased its use of other potato varieties in
the last decades.
Early-maturing, Canadian-bred Shepody potatoes go into many of its fries
sold in August, September and October. But those potatoes don't store well,
so by November, Ranger Russet fries hit the fast-food joints. And
better-storing Umatilla Russets -- the last U.S. potato variety approved by
McDonald's back in 2002 -- fill the bellies of consumers from late December
until the end of February.
From then on, Russet Burbanks, with robust storage qualities, consistent
texture and taste, remain Mickey D's mainstay, though this variety brought
West by Massachusetts botanist Luther Burbank in 1875 is costly to produce.
Across America, the Russet Burbank has a declining market share, but is
still no small potatoes. In 2008, Idaho potato farmers planted 57 percent of
their total acres with Russet Burbanks, while the variety accounted for 41
percent across the eight biggest potato-producing states.
Allan French, a globe-trotting J.R. Simplot Co. manager who oversees potato
varieties that feed the Boise-based company's sprawling fry-processing
empire stretching from Idaho to China, says finding a replacement has been
"We're always looking for the silver bullet to replace the Russet Burbank,"
Coming up with a reliable new variety takes years. The Premier Russet
emerged from the breeder's greenhouse in the early 1990s, but wasn't
released for commercial growers until 2006. Along the way, it underwent
storage trials at facilities near the tiny farming town of Kimberly.
Here, University of Idaho researchers stack experimental varieties in
refrigerated stalls, testing everything from sprout resistance to shrinkage.
And in the test kitchen next door, storage scientist Tina Brandt fries up
new varieties, to see how they stack up to Russet Burbanks, which tend to
develop unsightly dark splotches that crop up on fry ends.
"There have been a lot of fantastic varieties that have come along over the
years, but for one reason or another -- shrinkage in storage, disease
resistance, texture -- they haven't been adopted," Brandt laments.
At the McDonald's campus in Oak Brook, Ill., perfume-wearing intruders are
shooed from tasting rooms, to prevent contamination of french fries samples
randomly pulled from restaurants around America for monthly scrutiny by
representatives of the company's three main suppliers: J.R. Simplot,
Canada's McCain Foods Ltd., and Omaha-based Con-Agra Foods Inc.
These days, however, taste, texture and golden-brown appearance aren't
In March, three activist investor groups won an agreement from McDonald's to
promote best practices to cut pesticide use by its American potato
So far, the groups say the company is doing a "great job" adhering to its
McDonald's Smith says he's satisfied growers are already working efficiently
and sustainability, largely because wasteful water or chemical practices
dent their profits. But finding new varieties to meet that goal without
mashing customers' taste expectations would be, well, gravy, he said.
Just now, McDonald's is scrutinizing the Bannock Russet, a 10-year-old
potato variety bred originally in Idaho that isn't as susceptible to most
diseases as Russet Burbanks.
"If we can find a variety that does that, with less inputs, water or
whatever, that's something we're looking for," Smith said. "To date, there
are not a lot of varieties that perform consistently enough."
Re: new potato development for McD's French Fries
Janet Bostwick said...
> Socially conscious investors want McDonald's to help cut
> pesticides to protect the environment and farmworker health.
Doesn't that wreak of genetical engineering???
A once in awhile hobby of mine is to plow through the fast food giants
nutrition and ingredients lists on the web.
McD can't NOT add poison to any of their products, including pickles onions
About the only thing they leave alone is lettuce, from what I read.
Let McD have a "better" potato and guaranteed, they'll still chemically
mistreat it anyway!
To be fair, the problem is equally prevelant among all the fast food
There's no such thing as socially conscious McD investors but they'd sure
like the public to think so. If they actually were, they'd put McD out of
Re: new potato development for McD's French Fries
"Andy" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:[email protected]..
> Janet Bostwick said...
>> Socially conscious investors want McDonald's to help cut
>> pesticides to protect the environment and farmworker health.
> Doesn't that wreak of genetical engineering???
> There's no such thing as socially conscious McD investors but they'd sure
> like the public to think so. If they actually were, they'd put McD out of
> The BUMS!!!!!!
I always figure every little bit helps.
I don't know the precise meaning of genetically engineered. If you select
the largest bulb of garlic from each year's planting to save to plant the
next year, is that engineering for larger garlic bulbs?
If you select potatoes that have a particular trait you want and cross
pollinate them is that engineering?
I'm pretty sure however if you mess around in a lab with a plant at the
cellular level that is engineering.
Selection and cross pollination have been going on for dog's years and I
have no problem with that as it just is what happens in nature.