If foodservice prognosticator firm Technomic’s just-released Future of Fried Foods Study is accurate, restaurant customers will continue to order as much fried food as ever, even though they know that, for health and wellness reasons, they shouldn’t. Which may have been one factor driving foot traffic to the Spin Fresh booth at last week’s National Restaurant Association Show. Operators were scoping out the company’s innovative approach to deep-frying that uses centrifugal force to remove excess oil (and hence, calories) from deep-fried foods. It’s new technology, but the track record of 55-year-old foodservice equipment manufacturer/licenser Broaster Co. has already demonstrated that the less-oil-in-fried-food approach makes money.
No one knows more about the foodservice market than Chicago-based Technomic, and the company’s latest consumer study found that restaurant customers have no intention of giving up fried foods. It was an eye-opening result, considering that more than half of survey respondents described themselves as “Fried Food Curtailers” or “Fried Food Avoiders” before admitting that their actual eating behavior wasn’t going to change.
“We don’t foresee a large drop in fried food sales because they are widely available and are frequently bundled with value meal purchases,” says Technomic’s Bob Goldin. “Fried foods are offered at a reasonable price point that has a strong appeal across multiple consumer groups. The crispy texture and craveable flavor is something they cannot duplicate at home.”
So war on obesity or not, this market isn’t going away. “Over the next three years, the growth rate of fried foods will decline, but will not differ substantially from that of the foodservice industry as a whole,” Technomic concludes. That being the case, what can restaurant operators do to get a bigger share of the action?
Two years ago, the advice would have been to use more healthful frying oils, particularly zero trans fat oils. But most restaurants have already made that switch. The latest angle is to adopt technology that can deliver the full taste and texture restaurant customers expect from fried foods while getting rid of a lot of health-hindering calories that traditionally result from deep-fry cooking. Think of it as the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach to healthful dining.
That’s the angle the Spin Fry people are exploring. Their closed-lid frying system works the same as any other unit during the cooking cycle, and can use any type of oil. But when the cooking process is complete, the unit raises the cooked food above the hot oil and spins it for a predetermined (and highly calibrated) speed and time. In tests conducted for the company against a conventional fryer, the Spin Fry unit consumed 48 percent less oil during cooking, reduced calories from fat by up to 24 percent and cut cooking gas consumption by 13 percent.
These are controlled-conditions lab tests, of course, so you’d probably want to see how these units perform and hold up in real-world restaurant conditions before committing to a purchase. Right now, the company says it has placed prototypes in the test kitchens of several QSR and full-service chains, so we’ll soon know a little more about how well Spin Fry units work. If you want to try a home version, you could purchase the already available George Foreman Lean Mean Spin Frying Machine, available at retailers throughout the country. It goes for $124.95 at Amazon.com, $25 below the list price.
In the meantime, Spin Fry’s promised combination of lower operating costs (less oil, less electricity or gas consumption) and built-in marketing message (it produces food with fewer calories than items prepared in conventional fryers) seems irresistible. Keep in mind that more than half the people sampled by Technomic said they wanted to curtail or avoid fried foods, but still wanted to eat them. If the Spin Fry delivers on its promise, food cooked in it will have tremendous built-in appeal to the huge segment of the dining public looking for a “healthy enough” option.
Of course, Spin Fry isn’t the first company to offer a fryer that produces tasty fried food while reducing calories. That honor goes to the Broaster Co., a Beloit-WI based manufacturer of pressure fryers. The company sold its first unit in 1954 and has 5,000 licensees today. That license requires operators to, at minimum, use only official Broaster marinades and seasonings on the products they prepare in their fryers. Licensees can also buy an extensive line of ready-to-cook items from the company, but doing so is not mandatory. On the other hand, there are no franchise or royalty fees.
As its longevity in the marketplace would suggest, the Broaster is one heck of a machine. Pressure frying seals in an item’s flavor, while sealing out much of the oil that would typically be absorbed in standard deep-frying methods. The company’s Broasterie chicken, for example, winds up with a nutritional profile similar to that of standard rotisserie chicken yet has the taste and texture of a deep-fried bird. For those who would otherwise shun fried food, it’s an acceptable middle ground.
The other advantage to the pressure frying method is its high-speed capacity. Many items are prepared in half the time of a conventional fryer—a critical factor for some operations.
The Broaster Company keeps tight control over their system, so operators who want to do their own thing culinarily probably wouldn’t consider joining it. But they might take a serious look at the Spin Fry, should it prove itself viable in real-world restaurant situations. Either approach, though, would seem to provide an immediate competitive edge in attracting the I-know-I-shouldn’t-but-I-can’t-stop-myself fried food fans identified in the new Technomic report. This group makes up half the market, or more; why not start going after it now?