The 'Proper' way to make crisps
You'd never think that so much effort went into making a bag of crisps. I don't know what I really expected: Maybe shove some spuds in one end of an automated process and watch them pop out the other in neat little packets.
This is not the "Proper" way, and Your Weekend has been invited to Nelson to watch the manufacture of Proper Hand Cooked Crisps, from the Proper factory in Stoke. Here, the staff sort and trim the potatoes by hand, stir them as they cook, and inspect carefully before bagging.
Proper is a South Island company and it's spreading its wings to other parts of New Zealand.
It is owned by American couple Ned and Mina Smith. They bought the business from founders Kathryn and Stuart Franklin, who started making crisps in 2008. The Franklins wanted to make artisan crisps that weren't over-processed and artificially flavoured. They set up in Nelson, did a lot of experimenting and were very happy with the result.
The Smiths spend about half the year in Nelson, the other half in San Diego, where they have more food interests. The Smiths have continued the Proper hand- cooked tradition, but have brought in some more sophisticated equipment and expanded the business.
The hero ingredient is agria potatoes, which mainly come from grower Simon Connolly in Temuka, in Canterbury.
The crisps are cooked in high quality imported sunflower oil. The original (and still most popular) Proper flavour is Marlborough Sea Salt from Lake Grassmere. The Smiths have added three more natural flavours: Rosemary and Thyme, Smoked Paprika, and Apple Cider Vinegar and Sea Salt.
The crisps are all gluten, dairy, MSG, GMO free, and vegan friendly, the core value being "100 per cent natural, with no compromises".
General manager James Bowyer and operations manager Mike Kirkwood take the factory tour and the first thing to learn is that agria spuds can be a bit sensitive; they get upset if they are transported too far. "They don't like the jiggle, " Kirkwood says. They may start turning starch to sugar, which means the crisps could go brown. So they need to be rested after the run up from Temuka and kept warmish.
"They're harder to look after - there are others that are easier to grow, but they don't give you the flavour and golden flesh, " Kirkwood says.
This batch starts its 20-25 minute spud- to-crisp journey by being washed and peeled (in a heavy-duty mechanised peeler); they're checked and trimmed , then they tumble into an impressive- looking potato slicer, which deals to 52kg in 40 seconds.
The sliced potatoes pitch into the cooking vat. During the seven-minute process, moisture steams off the spuds, and when it's mostly gone, the crisps begin rising to the top of the oil.
A centrifuge machine spins off the excess oil; there's another run of hand inspection, with staff looking for crisps stuck together, or maybe too brown. They have their shot of flavouring, before they're finally bagged (by machine; 70 bags a minute when it's really wound up), then boxed (by hand).
All the hands-on treatment and quality products come at a price. Proper Crisps are $4.29 for a 150g pack - close to double many mainstream chip brands.
Buyers told the Proper people it wouldn't work. James Bowyer says it's working. The firm is growing, constantly evaluating and researching its products and markets. "People are prepared to pay the difference in price because of the quality they're getting." On a sunny day in Nelson with a bag of highly addictive crisps to hand, it's hard to disagree.
Proper Crisps are available at supermarkets, Fresh Choice Cambridge, plus some specialty stores such as the Country Providore, Tamahere. Denise Irvine was hosted by Proper Crisps in Nelson.
The potato chip market in New Zealand is estimated at $137 million annually and Proper Crisps has 2-3 per cent of this market.
Proper processes more than 455 tonnes of potatoes a year. It turns out about 6000 150g bags a day.
6.3kg of raw potatoes convert to 1.8kg of crisps during the dehydration process.