One of the big stories to come out of this year's 2011 Potato Expo in Las Vegas last week was the announcement by Frank van Schaayk, McCain Foods Ltd. regional CEO of the United States and South America, of the creation of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE).
The five major potato processors, Lamb Weston, Simplot, McCain, Heinz and Cavendish, along with the National Potato Council and the U.S. Potato Board, have decided to fund researchers and educate consumers to the health benefits of eating potatoes and french fries through the creation of APRE, van Schaayk said.
"I believe and my colleagues at other companies and within the industry believe that we are at a pivotal point in both the history of the potato industry in terms of making some decisions and taking some action as an industry that will literally change our future," van Schaayk said while meeting with the media prior to his general session presentation Jan. 6.
Van Schaayk said that according to USPB statistics, potato and french fry consumption have dropped 18 percent over the past 10 years.
Van Schaayk said that a major factor in the above mentioned decline is due to concerns over the increasing rate of obesity among children and adults in the United States
"And unfortunately," van Schaayk said, "our products, potatoes and to a larger extent, french fries, end in the crosshairs of that discussion."
To combat the current perception that potatoes and french fries are not healthy foods, van Schaayk said that the five major processors along with NPC and USPB have concluded that, "frequently the opinions that are formed and the pictures that are painted are based on a science that is either incomplete or no science at all."
"It's a lack of information, adequate information that has reached the people who are forming these opinions," van Schaayk said.
"It's an important time for us to galvanize the industry and to tell our story," van Schaayk said, "to tell a fact-based story, around potatoes, potato nutrition, and in fact many of the changes that have occurred in processing potatoes over the last decade that reposition processing potatoes as products that can rightfully take their place in a balanced, enjoyable diet for American consumers.
Van Schaayk said that the APRE's message would be based on solid science and solid research.
"Our message will be that based on our nutritional profiles of potatoes and fries today, with healthier oils, with the way processing takes place, potatoes and fries, today, justify a rightful place in a balanced consumer diet in the U.S.," said van Schaayk.
Calling it a quest to educate consumers, van Schaayk said that the five processors and the NPC and the USPB began discussions in May to begin a concerted effort to promote and inform the public of the nutritional benefits of the potato and french fries along with the changes over the past 20 years in process preparation of fries and the changes in the oils previously used to cook the fries.
Van Schaayk said that they have a three-committee structure and are currently searching for a person to lead the Alliance.