Frank van Schaayk at PotatoExpo 2011

    French fries and potatoes are not evil but they have been demonized.

    What will it take to get the buying consumer to realize that a potato is a very simple, healthy and wholesome food and not the primary culprit in rampant obesity?

    Frank van Schaayk, Regional CEO for McCain Foods says it will take a united front from the potato industry like it did with the egg and almond industry.

    VAN SCHAAYK: French fried potatoes have been branded bad, capitol “B” bad by all sorts of folks ranging from celebrity chefs to government policy makers. They’re the poster child for the U.S. obesity problem. They’re blamed for high cholesterol, high saturated fats, triglycerides;you name it and blamed for chronic illnesses related to all those things. But you know what? There may have been questions about French fries and how they fit into a healthy balanced diet in the past but together, as an industry, we can take heart in the fact we have already begun to make a bunch of changes.

    Van Schaayk goes on to say that these changes are beginning to be seen in consumers attitudes.

    VAN SCHAAYK: Everybody remembers when eggs were demonized for cholesterol;almonds were taboo because of fat. The reality is sound science;effective communication and applying the right emphasis on the positive facts are all powerful tools.
    Not only eggs and almonds but also even now dark chocolate is considered healthy.

    VAN SCHAAYK: The point is if we come together as an industry we can do the same thing. We are working with such a wonderful substrate - such a wonderful vegetable. The U.S. Potato Board has been making great strides in recent years educating consumers that potatoes are healthful.

    But he says there is a problem.

    VAN SCHAAYK: Our problem is that we have not as an industry communicated the changes, nobody’s heard us. We haven’t done enough to tell our side of the nutrition story and importantly we haven’t had a seat the way we should have a seat at the table on the issue and debate around nutrition and how it relates to potatoes and French Fries.

    At last years annual Potato Expo McCain foods pledged to lead an industry effort to try and reverse the negative momentum facing French fries.

    VAN SCHAAYK: We’ve reached out through the year to key dieticians and other health influencers gathering their perceptions so we understand where they’re coming from of fries and potatoes. And do you know what was surprising? Virtually all of them were open-minded and willing to consider the facts and I would say reconsider the facts if they had more information.

    Related PotatoPro Newsletter: Making the case for French Fries