ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston is a leading supplier of frozen potato, sweet potato, appetizer and other vegetable products. Clients include restaurants and retailers throughout the world, as Dan Harvey learned.
People love potatoes. The nutritious tuber has been a staple of the world diet for thousands of years. And people are downright passionate about French fries. But ConAgra® Foods Lamb Weston® is well aware that one size does not fit all when it comes to meeting and exceeding customer expectations.
Lamb Weston knows that foodservice operators require quality, innovative, menu-fresh and on-trend options to keep their customers coming back. Sometimes, a unique shape, such as a CrissCut® or Twister®, is a refreshing menu change. And today’s consumers, in both restaurant and retail venues, expect distinct, palate-pleasing flavor profiles.
With its proprietary ampliFRY® program, Lamb Weston can actually help an operator hone in on its customers’ specific French fry preferences. Simply adding a second- or even third-fry option to the menu increases customer reach and satisfaction. Also, it helps operators increase profits. The ampliFRY option lets restaurants take one of the most profitable items on the menu and make it even more profitable – a boon in today’s economic climate.
Lamb Weston’s retail business is also thriving. The Alexia Foods® brand of all natural frozen products – artisan breads to organic potatoes and spicy sweet potato products – is known for its topquality, at-home meal solutions. Lamb Weston is also the largest share leader in private label frozen potatoes for grocery stores.
HERITAGE OF INNOVATION
Innovation is a hallmark of Lamb Weston’s 50-plus-year history. Founder F. Gilbert “Gib” Lamb was an inventive man. He developed the seminal water-gun knife, now an industry wide, potato-processing standard.
Current management continues the founder’s forward-thinking approach – and that ranges from new product development and processing technologies to strategic, selective business growth. “Today, we conduct business in more than 120 countries and operate 18 production facilities,” says Vice President of Marketing Andy Johnston.
Lamb Weston is ever-expanding its versatile retail and foodservice product lines, demonstrating to customers its commitment to partnership and long-term vision.
UNDER THE GUN
When Gib Lamb patented the Water Gun Knife technology 10 years after establishing his business in 1950, he helped change potato processing for good. The Lamb Water Gun Knife provided a vastly more efficient way to cut potatoes.
But Gib’s Gun was only one of many advances that fostered the organization’s growth. Through the years, the company developed newer, value-added products that offered customers real and reliable menu and retail solutions, and it worked diligently to deliver excellent customer service. All the while, technological innovation continued.
VALUE-ADDED PRODUCTS AND SOLUTIONS
In 1983, the company designed the automatic defect removal system. This improved Lamb Weston’s already high quality by removing blemishes on high-speed processing lines. That same year, Lamb Weston pushed fry boundaries when it introduced Twister fries, a curled alternative to straight cut. After these became a popular menu item, Lamb Weston developed the CrissCut fries, another development that helped change the French fry experience.
Lamb Weston introduced Private Reserve® in 1989. Private Reserve looks and tastes fresh cut yet comes with all the benefits of a frozen product, including consistent and reliable quality.
In 1992, Lamb Weston achieved a significant milestone in French fry history when it launched Stealth® Fries, a product that features a nearly transparent and exclusive potato starch coating that retains heat and flavor much longer than conventional fries. It’s ideal for drive-through and takeout environments.
During the 1990s, the company introduced additional savory items. In 1995, it launched its Supreme® Mashed Potatoes, which revolutionized the concept of fast-serve mashed. Unlike dehydrated products, Lamb Weston Supreme mashed potatoes were made from scratch and lightly seasoned to offer a satisfying taste.
In 1996, the company launched its Stuffed Spudz® line of potato-based finger foods. Designed for side dish, appetizer or snack applications, the line combined flavorful elements, such as cheddar, cream and mozzarella cheese and finely diced potatoes, as well as vegetable and various seasonings.
A year later, the company introduced its GENERATION 7® Fries to provide foodservice operators a better performing and more profitable fry, as it requires 50-percent less preparation time. GENERATION 7 also enhances the flavor of potato products as they emerge from an oven or fryer.
Lamb Weston was also the first to bring seasoned and battered French fries to market, beginning in 1985 with the seasoned and battered Crispy QQQ®, followed by seasoned and battered straight-cut fries and Tater Babies®, a small wedge.
ACQUISITION AND FURTHER DEVELOPMENT
When ConAgra Foods – one of North America’s leading packaged food companies – acquired Lamb Weston in 1988, Lamb Weston products became part of the company’s portfolio of such well-known and much beloved brands as Hunt’s®, Hebrew National®, Marie Callender’s® and Orville Redenbacher®, among many others.
ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston continued its growth through the 1994 purchase of Universal Frozen Foods, which quickly enlarged Lamb Weston’s global footprint.
More recently, Lamb Weston acquired Watts Brothers Farms®, a group of vegetable processing, packaging and farming facilities, including a 2,000-acre organic farm and a large dairy operation, based in Kennewick, Wash. The dairy, farms and processing facilities allow for a uniquely sustainable agricultural and production system.
Lamb Weston complemented its steady growth in the United States with strategic expansion into high-growth, international markets, which enabled it to meet growing global demand. The company entered the Asian market in the mid-1970s, followed by the European market in the 1990s.
During these robust decades, Lamb Weston purchased two plants in Holland, and established a partnership with Meijer Frozen Foods to form Lamb Weston/Meijer in Holland.
In 1998, Lamb Weston/Meijer expanded its Kruiningen, Holland factory, making it one of the world’s largest potato processing facilities in the world. A year later, Lamb Weston established a state-of-the-art processing plant in Taber, Alberta, Canada, in one of North America’s best potato growing regions.
Then, in the first year of the new century, Lamb Weston acquired three more plants in Holland, making it Europe’s second largest producer of frozen potato products.
THE “ORANGING” OF THE WORLD
Today, Lamb Weston’s world is distinctively more orange. Since introducing its Sweet Things® sweet potato product line in 2001, as part of its longer-term vision, sweet potato consumption has increased significantly. According to the USDA, sweet potato consumption has risen 31.5 percent in the 10 years between 1998 and 2008.
Consumers now seek unique, authentic, and sometimes premium and/or better-for-you dining experiences, whether they’re eating at home or in restaurants. Sweet potatoes fulfill these needs. The sweet potato is significantly different in taste and appearance from other potato products, so it satisfies the demand for something new and different. Further, consumers recognize sweet potatoes as inherently nutritious.
Offering premium menu options is but one way that operators differentiate themselves from competitors – and sweet potatoes are the number-one second-fry option that operators consider. Consumers like their sweet potatoes in a number of forms. The most frequently consumed forms are baked (89 percent), mashed (67 percent), French fries (66 percent) and roasted (50 percent).
Since 2001, the Sweet Things® product line has grown to include multiple cut styles and flavors, from simple and straightforward to indulgent, all of which can be baked. Lamb Weston’s prime market position in sweet potatoes is anchored by both foodservice and retail category leadership. In late 2009, Lamb Weston began building a state-of-the-art processing facility in Delhi, La., which is uniquely equipped to process sweet potatoes investment of more than $155 million. “Sweet potatoes are part of our longer-term strategy for growth that we’ve been pursuing for some time,” says Johnston. “The plant will come on line just in time, as the demand for sweet potatoes, both at home and in restaurants, is growing at a phenomenal rate.”
Even the most discriminating consumers – kids – really like sweet potatoes, he adds.
APPETIZERS AND MORE
Lamb Weston’s Tantalizers® appetizer line satisfies consumers and operators in many ways, whether in the form of a mozzarella stick or onion ring, stuffed jalapeno or sweet corn nugget. In 2008, Lamb Weston brought the flavors of the world to its onion rings, when it intruded its Tantalizers World Rings® – a gourmet breaded onion ring infused with international flavor accents, such as Island Breeze and Steakhouse Peppercorn. The company also began offering four new Stuffed Spudz® flavor combinations: Broccoli & Cheese, Chipotle Cheddar, Country Biscuit & Gravy and Fully Loaded Potato.
To support its growth in the appetizer category, Lamb Weston completed an expansion of its Pasco, Wash. potato processing plant in late 2007, adding two state-of-the-art production lines for making potato- and onion-based appetizers.
Lamb Weston was also the first to launch a zero-gram-trans-fat potato product, Starz®, which are star-shaped potato bites chopped into fine shreds and processed in canola oil. The company subsequently reformulated almost all of its products to meet zero-grams trans-fat standards. The company also launched My Fries Gold®, which are made with the finest Yukon Gold potatoes and “possess 25-percent less fat than conventional fries, without any flavor compromise,” says Johnston. “It’s a tremendous, ground-breaking option for today’s health-conscious consumers.”
Today, Lamb Weston’s customer profile is firmly established. “We cater to restaurants and other foodservice providers, selling to all major chains,” says Johnston, “and our retail presence is significant and growing.”
You want to sample the goods? You don’t have to look too far. Lamb Weston products are sold in nearly every corner of the globe, in corner groceries, supermarkets and restaurants.