A portrait photographic headshot of Kim Breshears smiling
Potatoes USA
By Kim Breshears, Chief Marketing Officer
The Wait Is Over: Foodservice Sales Near Pre-Pandemic Levels
Cause to celebrate!
Foodservice is back! In fact, total sales in the foodservice sector have nearly rebounded to pre-pandemic levels and are expected to grow 5.5 percent in 2023. There is no denying that some of this growth is due to higher menu prices and inflation, but it’s also driven by consumer demand.

Through it all, potatoes maintained a place of prominence on menus across the U.S. According to Datassential, potatoes are one of the most consistently menued items showing up on 83 percent of menus nationwide, while the incidences have increased by 5 percent. Incidences is just a fancy word for the number of dishes on a menu that contain potatoes. This is impressive! Despite the turmoil restaurants have experienced during the pandemic, potatoes have grown in importance. Just one more indicator of how much the humble spud is beloved.

“And foodservice operators know one thing: Americans love potatoes, and what sells gets on, and stays on, their menus.”
Potatoes are especially common at American, BBQ and burger restaurants, where more than 95 percent of restaurants use potatoes in one or more menu items, according to Datassential. They are typically used as a side dish or an accompaniment to a protein, although this is changing. The plant-based movement has catapulted potatoes into being a main component in dishes such as tacos and curry.

Most potato dishes are loved by older generations, especially classic potato dishes such as roasted potatoes and potato pancakes. Younger generations gravitate to delicious fry dishes such as loaded fries and cheese fries. Speaking of fries, this category has seen explosive growth, particularly fries that showcase ingredients and flavors from different cuisines. Thicker-cut fries that can hold multiple ingredients, such as wedge fries, waffle fries, and curly fries, have also grown significantly on menus.

Plate of crinkle fries with small bowl of ketchup
Potatoes are becoming more common outside of American cuisine restaurants in the United States. Korean, Chinese, Thai, and African cuisines have the fastest-growing potato appearances on their menus, while many of the fastest-growing ingredients are being paired with potatoes, like peanuts and ginger, which are common in these cuisines.

Another study by Technomics, Inc., confirms the importance and growth of potato sales in the foodservice sector. Data from July 2021-June 2022 shows that the volume of potatoes sold to foodservice increased by 12 percent, and the value of those potato sales increased by 26 percent.

Value in this example refers to the amount foodservice operators paid suppliers for the product. Interestingly, refrigerated, dehydrated, and fresh potatoes showed the strongest growth of 25 percent, 19 percent, and 18 percent, respectively.  Frozen potato sales grew at the slowest rate of 9 percent, yet it was the potato format that was less impacted by the pandemic. Frozen is currently the product closest to pre-pandemic volumes compared to all other product categories. It’s worth noting breakfast potatoes are exhibiting a strong comeback.

We at Potatoes USA expect foodservice to continue to thrive despite ongoing labor, inflation, and supply chain challenges. Yet we continue to expect foodservice operators to focus on smaller, more manageable menus and less complex dishes that require a lot of highly skilled labor. The versatility of ingredients is key, working across the menu in many dayparts and menu items. This all bodes well for the potato industry, as we have a variety of formats that work across the menu at various price points. And foodservice operators know one thing: Americans love potatoes, and what sells gets on, and stays on, their menus.