2011 February: Potato Chips – Value Added

potato chips

There’s hardly a better accompaniment to a great sandwich than potato chips or fries. But in the pizza business, where kitchens often are small and a fryer isn’t always required, chips typically get the call. Which isn’t a bad thing at all: Americans love potato chips so much they’re the country’s favorite salty snack (second only to candy overall), and we spend $6 billion annually chomping down 1.2 billion pounds of them.

Another perk is their low cost. A nice pile of chips on a plate creates strong value perception and boosts food cost only marginally. But just because they’re markedly cheaper than pricey items like cheese doesn’t negate the impact of waste on the bottom line, so it’s smart to manage your chips wisely.

Depending on the brand, operators say single-order bags range from 30 cents to 45 cents each with portion sizes averaging from 1 to 1½ ounces. Larger 1 pound bags designed for volume use hover in the $2.50 range, meaning that even a hefty 1½ ounce portion (a two-handed scoop for most cooks) costs decidedly less at 23 cents.

While that cost advantage is sizeable, large bags have their drawbacks. “I never wanted people putting their hands into a community bucket of chips,” says Eddie Fischer, owner of Eddie’s Lakeview Pizza in Nineveh, Indiana. “So we went with the small bags even though they cost more. I thought it wasn’t that bad to absorb 41 cents into the cost of a sandwich.”

Fischer and other operators acknowledged larger bags cost less, but said the waste from chip breakage, opened bags going stale, over-portioning on the sandwich line and nibbling by the staff compounded their poor appeal. Such thinking long ago led Mangia Stuffed Pizza in Austin, Texas, to switch to smaller bags of Frito-Lay products before a recent change to Miss Vickie’s chips.

“We’ve gotten some great feedback from customers since we made the upgrade,” says executive general manager Christine Nichols. “We also get a variety pack so customers can choose what kind they want.”

Unlike some operations, where customers pay more if they substitute French fries for chips on a sandwich, Mangia doesn’t charge extra for fries. But for delivery orders and catered box lunches, chips are the only option. “There’s no question they’ll hold up when we’re transporting them,” Nichols says.

Proof that Larry Rust has “been in this business forever” is how he used to get chips delivered to his Pizza Inn restaurant in Paducah, Kentucky.

“I don’t know if you remember Charles Chips, but they came in big cans and were delivered weekly,” he says. “They were good tasting chips, but from a freshness standpoint, they don’t compare to the smaller bags.”

All of Rust’s sandwich orders are accompanied by Lay’s chips, and when they’re delivered, they’re always in the bag. For improved presentation in the restaurant, Mangia opens each Miss Vickie’s bag in the kitchen and pours its contents onto the plate.

“We do advertise it in the restaurant that these are Miss Vickie’s, so customers know what they’re getting,” Nichols says.

Jack Butorac, president and CEO at Marco’s Franchising, says a recent shift from Coke products to Pepsi products led the 226-unit Marco’s Pizza chain to switch to all Frito-Lay chips since that company is owned by Pepsico. The wider variety gives customers choice and adds value to its oven-baked sub sandwiches, he says.

“We’ve never really marketed our subs as heavily as our pizza, but we think that adding a bag of chips gives us an opportunity to talk about a higher-value meal,” says Butorac, whose company is in Toledo, Ohio. “The chips are also part of our bundled lunch specials.”

In pizzerias equipped with deep fryers, the opportunity to fresh-fry potato chips makes a logical menu extension. At Papa Rocks Pizza Pub in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, they sell for $2.99 per basket and are seasoned with choices of flavored salts. King Pin Pizza in Ames, Iowa, sells a $4.29 basket of fresh chips with a garlic-Parmesan ranch dip, and Mr. Mike’s Pub and Pizza in Irwin, Pennsylvania, sells homemade chips with a “hot bleu dressing” for $3.95.

After admiring the quality of fresh-fried chips made at other pizzerias and casual restaurants, Tony Palombino saw an opportunity to add them to the menu of his Boombozz Pizza & Taphouse concept, which opened nearly two years ago in Louisville, Kentucky.

“It isn’t hard to do; we just use a Robot Coupe to slice the potatoes, which takes no time,” says Palombino. Since the same food processor already was in use for potatoes used on a pizza and because he already had fryers for wings, chips were a super-low-cost menu addition. “I also liked the fact that we could season them ourselves and make them fresh.”

Side orders of house-made BoomBoom chips come with every sandwich, but it’s on his Taphouse Loaded Potato Nachos that he makes a significant profit. On the dish is a 1.7 ounce pile of hot BoomBoom chips topped with smoked bacon, melted beer cheese, chipotle salsa and garlic sour cream. Sale price is $6.49 ($2 more if customers add chicken).

Between his two Taphouses he sells an average 280 orders of Nachos per week, an effort that’s turned his cooks into frequent fryers. But Palombino says the labor is not a big deal given the margin built into the dish.

“There is some added labor overall, but not much,” he says. “It’s an easy product to make and control. If we’re busy, we make more; if we’re slow, we back off. Very little waste, which I like a lot.”

Whether you use large bags of chips or smaller ones, both have advantages and drawbacks.

Small Advantages

  • Small bags cost more per portion, but waste is lower.
  • Food handling hazards are eliminated.
  • Mixed cases provide added guest choice.
  • Chips don’t get soggy during delivery.
  • Branded bagged chips can have high customer appeal.

Small Disadvantages

  • Large bags cost as much as 50 percent less per portion.
  • A pile of chips on a plate is more attractive than a bag.
  • Large bags dumped into a speed rack make fast work for large orders.
  • Large bags yield less trash in house and offsite.
  • Mixed cases sometimes contain flavors customers don’t like, which can mean waste.

Steve Coomes is a former Pizza Today editor and a freelance writer living in Goshen, Kentucky

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