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 French Fries

Fries have been getting downsized.

The introduction of dollar menus, effects of the recession and end of supersizing have taken a toll on french fry consumption at restaurants.

In the United States, sales of frozen processed potatoes to restaurants have declined by 500 million pounds since 2007, according to the United States Potato Board. And fries make up 13.2 percent of restaurant meals today, down from 14.5 percent in 2004, according to NPD Group.

But fast-food giants haven't been taking this lying down. Many have been finding ways to offset the decline in fry sales, e.g. with breakfast and coffees.

While some experts see signs of healthier eating, particularly among seniors and children — many are ordering apple slices instead of fries — others point to the recession.

While french fry sales are likely to grow as the economy improves, they say consumption is unlikely to return to previous levels.

"This is a category that's been a little bit sleepy for a while,"according to Ken Calwell, chief marketing officer of Dublin, Ohio-based Wendy's International Inc. - who recently saw sales of fries pick up after introduction of new french fries.

"Over the last 10 years there has been a lot of new hamburger products that have come out, chicken sandwiches, dairy products, salads, new 99 cent (items). There's been innovation across the category. But there's been very little, if any, innovation across the french fry area."

Mark Hayden, senior vice president of sales at ConAgra Foods' Lamb Weston unit, said if the industry is innovative, it eventually should return to prerecession levels.

"I would argue that if we don't do that, it'll stay pretty constant."