Mamzells: reinventing the potato

“We’ve reinvented the potato to make it a trendy product,” says Audrey Boulianne.

Nicolas Mesly | Journalist

Québec Parmentier's Mamzells (in French only) potatoes were only launched this past October, and they're already a hit! No more huge 10-pound bags of potatoes that you don't know what to do with and that end up sprouting.

Mamzells come in 1.5 - 5 lb. bags, perfect for consumers' busy lives. They don't take long to cook, you don't need to peel them, and they're ready for frying, roasting, microwaving or pureeing. They also come in three natural flavours: buttery, nutty and flowery. "We've reinvented the potato to make it a trendy product," says Audrey Boulianne, agronomist and manager of innovation for Québec Parmentier.

Strength in numbers 
The company, named after the famous soup, is a group of 25 families of seed and table potato producers and processors, whose operations range from storage to packaging to marketing. The group, which has created its own value chain, isn't a broker and markets 115 million pounds of potatoes--97% of its members' production. 

The idea for Mamzells was born of a market reality: for the past 20 years, there had been a 2%-per-year loss in potato sales. Popular weight-loss methods like Montignac definitely hadn't helped. "The business turned to innovation," says Boulianne. Québec Parmentier's R&D budget makes up 23% of the company's sales. She adds that there's strength in numbers, because none of the member businesses alone would have been able to allocate sufficient resources to R&D. 

Enticing the palate
To reinvent the "Quebec potato," Québec Parmentier's President and CEO, Pierre Chouinard, travelled to other countries and turned to Europe, which is much more advanced in the production of small thin-skinned varieties. It wasn't enough to buy the rights and increase potato production in our northern climates, though--they also had to make sure their product was pleasing to the palate of Quebecers! 

"Mamzells is a taste experience!" says Boulianne. The company hired Charles Goulet, a scientist and researcher at Université Laval, who's an expert on the taste of fruits and vegetables. A taste protocol was developed for each variety of potato, including the 20 or so organoleptic compounds whose proportions produce nutty, buttery or flowery flavours. And finally, the different varieties were put to the ultimate test by panels of professional tasters, where the potatoes were paired with different foods; for example, the Mamzells flowery variety pairs well with deli meats. 

Crossing the border
Québec Parmentier works with some 100 varieties of potatoes, but the ones in Mamzells bags remain a "secret." One of the company's business strategies is to possibly recruit new producers--but only if an increase in sales volume justifies it. The company did some initial sales prospecting at the New York Produce Show this past December. The producer/buyer/retailer expo, one of the biggest of its kind in the world, brought together 400 exhibitors and 5,000 attendees. Who knows--maybe our neighbours to the south will also love Mamzells!

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