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Fried & True

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
filed under: Utilization/Trade

Potatoes, sunflower oil and salt. When making the best French fries in the universe is your reason for being, you keep the ingredients simple and use only the best.

That’s the mantra of Canada’s fast food sensation New York Fries, a company with 193 Canadian and 11 international franchises. What’s that you say? New York Fries – and it’s Canadian?

As the story goes, there is a New York back-story to the company’s origins; but its success was written north of the border, including its pioneering and well-marketed use of sunflower oil.

It was 1983 when New York Fries founder, Jay Gould, spotted a small fry operation with the New York Fries name and the “best” French fries on the third floor of a retail complex in Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. What Jay saw was pure fry magic — fresh cut, hot, crispy French fries flowing across the counter in generous portions to eager customers.

Within weeks of his first visit, Jay returned to New York and bought the Canadian rights to the company. In 1987, when the Manhattan location closed, Jay bought the worldwide rights to the brand.

New York Fries is a Canadian fast food success story, with estimated annual sales of more than $48 million USD.

During its 25-year history, New York Fries has built its brand on a simple point of difference – freshness and quality. This has meant using only premium ingredients - the best potatoes and highest quality oil.

The ‘Clear Choice’
Another key to New York Fries’ success is Jay Gould’s ability to marry business savvy with a strong personal commitment to providing the right choices for customers. This was instrumental to the company’s trailblazing decision in 2004 to switch from using a partially hydrogenated canola oil to trans fat-free, high-oleic sunflower oil (a first for a multi-unit fast food chain in Canada).

With reports just then surfacing about the dangers of trans fat, Gould made his decision to move to sunflower oil as simply the “right thing to do.” New York Fries had staked its brand on using the best ingredients and doing the right thing for its customers, so switching to the “best” oil made pure sense.

In the process, New York Fries tested a number of oils. But sunflower oil quickly won the company over as a trans fat-free alternative with excellent cooking properties that did not alter the taste of the fries.

New York Fries Uses 1.5 Million Lbs. of Sunflower Oil Annually
It is a testament to Gould’s vision and leadership that he managed to bring his franchisees on board with little resistance, despite the financial investment required. Even the Canadian government took notice, inviting Gould to speak in Canada’s House of Commons about the health effects of consuming trans fatty acids.

That’s all great, but how did customers react? “We actually received thank you letters when we made the switch,” notes Alyssa Berenstein, New York Fries marketing manager. “Our customers were really paying attention — not just to the lighter taste, but to a move they appreciated as being in their best interests.” And the numbers: customer counts increased across the chain by 6%, and same store sales jumped.

Sunflower oil has also helped New York Fries stay ahead of the regulatory curve. In June 2007, Canada’s Minister of Health adopted the recommendations of a Trans Fat Task Force, which called for most foods to limit their trans fat content to five per cent of the total fat content. The food industry was given two years to make significant progress towards meeting these limits or face regulations.

Selling a Healthy Message
Since switching to sunflower oil, New York Fries has enthusiastically communicated its benefits to consumers. The company widely promotes the use of sunflower oil on store signage, banners, menu board panels, tray liners and customer handouts. Like its product, the company keeps messaging and advertising fresh, opting for mall posters and signage that can be constantly updated.

Today, its use of sunflower oil is entrenched in all of New York Fries staff and franchisee training videos and materials. Front-line staff learn everything from the intricacies of potato chemistry to the cutting of fries.

New York Fries uses approximately 12 million pounds (250,000 cases) of potatoes each year. Its fries start with real, fresh russet Burbank potatoes, which are hand-cut right in the store, leaving the potato skin on. New York Fries’ three-stage process for cutting, destarching and cooking fries in sunflower oil seals in the flavor and nutrients of the potato and delivers crispy, lightly golden French fries made fresh for each customer.

What’s Next?
The company has always opted for busy shopping mall locations, which provide an ideal market for its product. With little new mall construction in Canada, however, there are limited opportunities for expansion in that type of setting.

Instead, Gould is pairing New York Fries with his South St. Burger Co. chain, which has eight locations and counting. This move is allowing New York Fries to enter new territory like big box centers and neighborhood street corners.

There is a strong synergy between the two brands. New York Fries focuses on making premium fries and South St. Burger, a premium hamburger made from 100% pure, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef. And yes, sunflower oil is front and center at South St. Burger too, used for the New York Fries and an onion ring product.

It all sounds quite delicious, but are New York Fries really the best in the universe? You’ll just have to go to Canada to taste for yourself.
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