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Crunch Time: Quick meals chains make sure that the meals stays crispy as deliveries improve

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© Reuters. McDonald & # 39; s Crispy Chicken sandwiches and fries are pictured in New York

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By Siddharth Cavale and Hilary Russ

(Reuters) – McDonald & # 39; s Corp (NYSE 🙂 launched its new Crispy Chicken Sandwich in February. Wendy's (NASDAQ 🙂 Co sells crispy chicken nuggets. And like chains Shake Shack Inc. (NYSE 🙂 are known for having some of the crispiest french fries in the fast food industry.

Given the increasing number of deliveries and orders for on the go during the pandemic, marketing "crispy" is risky if the food arrives limp and listless to consumers. To keep the crisis going for as long as possible, many chains are optimizing their recipes and trying out different additives, formulations, cooking techniques and temperatures.

According to data analytics firm The NPD Group / CREST, delivery orders at U.S. restaurants in January 2021 were 154% higher than a year earlier.

Delivery accounted for 12% of all restaurant orders in January 2021, up from just 5% the previous year. A chicken finger fries combo was the top food ordered for delivery in 2020 by third party delivery service DoorDash Inc.

But crunchier food can cost more. According to Barry Friends, a partner with food industry consultant Pentallect, a £ 30 box of the cheapest wholesale french fries for restaurants can cost anywhere from $ 12 to $ 15. High-quality french fries, made from drier, higher quality potatoes and sealants, can cost up to $ 45 per box.

White Castle, with approximately 375 locations, "is testing another fish to see if we can get something that will last longer and stay crispy," Jeff Carper, chief operations officer, told Reuters. As of late last year, the chain was testing a new fry at around 60 locations in New York and New Jersey that cost more than the current fries, he said.

A McDonald & # 39; s franchisee told Reuters that their fries stay fresh about seven minutes after they exit the deep fryer. "We have a lot to do here," preparing food that will travel better, said the franchisee. "The delivery business is growing by leaps and bounds."

In a video review of new fried chicken sandwiches from major chains in March, Jonathan Maze, editor-in-chief of Restaurant Business magazine, said McDonald & # 39; s Crispy Chicken Sandwich was "not as crispy as the name suggests," although he thought it was "a very nicely done piece of chicken."

Two of McDonald's suppliers – both also supply other chains – told Reuters in early February that McDonald's was trying new breading formulations in the hopes of developing a coating that could help prevent the Chicken patties stay crispy longer.

The world's largest restaurant chain denied that such "official tests" were being carried out on chicken or fries, but noted that foil bags were being introduced to keep the new chicken sandwiches fresher longer.

Potato processor Lamb Weston Holdings (NYSE 🙂 Inc, which sells french fries to McDonald & # 39; s and KFC owner Yum Brands Inc, markets the "Crispy on Delivery" french fries developed in 2018, which supposedly have a "revolutionary coating". The company told Reuters that in the three months ended January 31, restaurant demand quadrupled year over year.

Lamb Weston also provides store-to-door training for chains to keep french fries crispy until they reach customers' homes.

"With so much takeout and delivery driving, it's important that your fries perform perfectly every time," Lamb Weston said in a March ad targeted at restaurants.

Ingredion (NYSE 🙂 Inc, which makes sweeteners and starches for sale to restaurants, told Reuters it had developed a crispy outside coating for french fries that prevents oil from seeping into the potato while frying and helps the potato retain moisture store without getting slimy after delivery.

These tactics helped Ingredion increase the "freshness" of the roasts to 10-25 minutes from five minutes earlier, "with a minor but livable reduction in crispness," said Greg Aloi, vice president of Ingredions Customer Co-Creation & Innovation Reuters.

Similarly, rival ingredient maker Kerry Group said it was working on how to control gels on french fries, a by-product of frying.

"We had to understand the dynamics of temperature change over a longer period of time and … examine how this gel must build up on the structure and how it behaves over time from business to customer," said Albert McQuaid, chief innovation officer at in Ireland based group.

When it comes to chicken patties, large chains are increasingly using plant-based flours like beans and chickpeas to improve the crispy texture, the two restaurant operators told Reuters.

Chains are also adding more starch and hydrocolloid-based gums like xanthan gum and guar gum to help keep the coating's texture longer, suppliers said.

Friends of Pentallect said the smartest restaurants are now focusing on this topic "because traveling while traveling has become a much, much more important part of the overall food service equation."

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