Flakes and Mashed Potatoes Are Bouncing Back
Potato flakes remain a key feature of the global potato industry, representing a widely used ingredient in the manufacture of industrially produced mashed potato, as well as various other foodstuffs. While global demand has undoubtedly been hit by Covid-19 and severely reduced consumption via foodservice channels, the prospects for a speedy return to growth appear promising in many parts of the world.
by Jonathan Thomas
Dehydrated potato flakes are prepared by cooking and mashing raw potatoes. The mashed potatoes are then pressed on to a drum drier by a roller to form sheets, when then undergo the process of quick-drying – this brings the humidity level to an acceptable value. The next stage in the process is breaking the sheets and grinding them to the required density to yield the potato flakes. During production, manufacturers may add various ingredients to improve the texture, color and appearance of the flakes. In recent years, the processing procedures have evolved to incorporate more energy and water-efficient technology. Increasingly, multipurpose drum driers are being adopted in the manufacture of potato flakes, while companies have also shown an interest in utilizing technologies which help retain the nutritional attributes of potatoes. In addition to their role as a key ingredient in the manufacture of instant mashed potatoes, potato flakes are also widely used in food manufacture. Much of this is because they can be easily reconstituted with cold water. Potato flakes offer a variety of benefits within food manufacture, including the following:
- Thickener – they offer a potential thickening alternative to cornstarch and wheat flour, to add volume to foods such as soups, sauces, gravies, etc.
- Baking ingredient – they are widely used in the manufacture of bread, cakes and muffins, since they retain water more readily than other flour substitutes. This ensures greater freshness and shelf-life, while potato flakes are also used to improve the taste and texture of bakery goods.
- Binder – the inherent starch in potato flakes mean they are popular as a binding agent in foods such as sausages, cakes and meat and fish-based dishes, offering a better performance than various types of flour.
- Ingredient for other foods – potato flakes are also used in the manufacture of foods such as snacks (e.g., potato chips and crisps), formed products (e.g., burgers, meatballs and patties) and gnocchi.
Future demand is expected to benefit from the growing appreciation and awareness amongst consumers of the health benefits offered by potatoes – for example, they are rich in nutrients such as fiber, protein and vitamin C. Furthermore, some manufacturers within the category have made efforts to reformulate their products to improve their nutritional profile. Typically, this has taken the form of reducing salt and saturated levels, as well as lowering calorie content. In parts of the world, demand for organic potato flakes and mashed potato has risen in recent years.
Market Trends & Supply
The global market for dehydrated potato flakes is estimated to be worth over USD17bn per annum. Until 2020, the market was expanding at a relatively steady rate of around 7% per year, driven by especially high growth in emerging economies such as China and India. The lack of large-scale food processing facilities compared with the west has driven demand for potato flakes used in the manufacture of products such as soups, sauces, snack foods and bakery goods, all of which have grown in popularity as urban consumers switch towards westernized diets. It remains to be seen how well the global market recovers from the numerous shocks of 2020 resulting from Covid-19, although the situation is not entirely negative. Demand was undoubtedly affected by the widespread shutdown of much of the foodservice industry, reducing sales in sectors such as restaurants, bars and pubs. In Belgium, for example, the authorities were encouraging consumers to eat French fries at least twice a week to support the country’s potato industry – otherwise, it was claimed that up to 750,000 tons would have to be thrown away. Belgium represents one of Europe’s leading potato producers, many of which are processed into products such as potato flakes and French fries.
Suppliers of potato flakes and mashed potato have traditionally targeted customers within the foodservice industry, as well as food manufacturing due to the myriad of benefits potato flakes offer as an ingredient. However, many firms are now increasing their presence within the retail sector, as consumers become more inclined to seeking out alternative meal accompaniments to some of the traditional favorites. The growth in the number of home meal occasions caused by the shutdown of the foodservice industry during lockdown is believed to have benefited mashed potato, which is viewed by many consumers as a comforting yet classic meal accompaniment. One of the odder meals being reported in the UK during 2020 as Covid-19 swept the world was mashed potato sandwiches.
Data from YouGov indicates that both UK and US consumers have a broadly positive opinion of mashed potatoes. In both markets, mashed potatoes are slightly more popular with female consumers than men, while opinion becomes more favorable with age – one reason for this could be the greater exposure of younger consumers to meal accompaniments other than traditional potato-based dishes, such as rice and noodles. In the UK, 82% of baby boomers have a positive opinion of mashed potatoes compared with 75% of millennials – in the US, these figures are similar at 88% and 79% respectively.
Recent studies also suggest that mashed potatoes remain strongly associated with certain meals, such as Bangers & Mash in the UK. Moving to the US market, a 2020 study carried out by Side Delights found that mashed potato was rated as the favorite side dish for Thanksgiving meals by 71% of those who celebrated the occasion. Similar findings had emerged the previous year when over half (51%) of consumers rated mashed potato as one of their three favorite side dishes during Thanksgiving meals. Mashed potato was especially popular with consumers in the Midwestern states, cited as a favorite by 59% of respondents. This is perhaps to be expected given Idaho’s position as one of the leading potato producing states in the US. According to a separate survey of over 1,000 US consumers carried out in 2019 by The Little Potato Company, 55% of respondents ranked potatoes as their favorite comfort food, confirming their perception as a classic favorite. The same survey found that the popularity of potatoes rises during the holiday season, with 75% of US consumers more likely to eat them than at any time of the year. Another notable finding from the survey was that mashed emerged as the favorite way of eating potatoes, cited by 30% of respondents, ahead of French fries (23%) and baked (22%). In keeping with the YouGov data mentioned previously, mashed potato was slightly more popular with the older age groups – this was the preferred format for 35% of those in the older generations, whereas younger consumers were more likely to opt for French fries.
You can read the rest of this article in your complimentary e-copy of the January/February Issue of Potato Processing International magazine, which you can access by clicking here.