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Conagra tries to reengineer the sweet potato

 Sweet potato production (per capita)
May 24, 2010
ConAgra Foods hopes to make the sweet potato a modern-day equivalent of its stepbrother, the russet potato. In the mid-1940s, entrepreneur J. R. Simplot developed the frozen French fry, thus elevating the russet from kitchen staple to multibillion-dollar franchise"

As part of this effort ConAgra started breeding activities with scientists at the Louisiana State University AgCenter and elsewhere to change some characteristics of sweet potatoes, including shape and sugar content.

"We're wanting to deliver to [ConAgra's] factory something that looks like a brick,"says AgCenter researcher Don LaBonte as he brandishes a sweet potato shaped more like a croissant. "We don't want them with that pretty shape like you get in the grocery store."

"We're witnessing a revolution in the making, not unlike potatoes"bred to become French fries, says Jan de Weerd, a potato expert and vice president of global agricultural strategy and services at ConAgra's Lamb Weston potato-processing unit.

ConAgra doesn't expect sweet-potato fries to take over McDonald's Corp. menus anytime soon. But the Omaha, Neb., company is spending $155 million to build a sweet-potato processing plant in Delhi, La., with the help of a federal income tax credit and more than $30 million from the state of Louisiana.

When it opens this fall, ConAgra's first new U.S. plant in years will turn sweet potatoes into French fries, waffle fries and other products. ConAgra thinks it is the first factory dedicated to sweet potatoes in North America. H.J. Heinz Co., McCain Foods Ltd. and other companies also produce sweet-potato fries and other products but use standard potato-processing plants.
Companies in this Article
McCain Foods Limited is an international leader in the frozen food industry and the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato specialities, employing approximately 18,000 people and operating 50 production facilities on six continents.
Lamb Weston Holdings Inc (NYSE:LW) is the largest potato company in North America with annual sales of approximately $2 billion. Lamb Weston manufactures french fries, potato specialties and dehydrated potato products.
ConAgra Foods is a "leading branded, value-added" food company, organized into three businesses—Consumer Foods, International Foods and Commercial Products, which includes our Food and Ingredients and Trading and Merchandising Segments.
H.J. Heinz Company, offering "Good Food Every Day"™ is one of the world's leading marketers and producers of healthy, convenient and affordable foods specializing in ketchup, sauces, meals, soups, snacks and infant nutrition.
McDonald's is the leading global foodservice retailer with more than 34,000 local restaurants serving nearly 69 million people in more than 118 countries each day. 
Simplot is one of the three larger french fry manufacturers in the United States.