Canadian Dad McCain Potato

More Than Just A Potato

I will freely admit that, prior to this year, on the list of things I am fascinated by, potatoes would have had a fairly low ranking. That has all changed, however, after spending the majority of the past year with McCain Canada, learning the ins and outs of their business. Not only am I now up to my ears in potato knowledge, I have gained a tremendous amount of respect for the farming community and everything they do to ensure my food goes from farm to fork in the safest and healthiest way possible.

My final adventure with McCain Canada for the year took place a couple weeks ago as we visited the beautiful town of Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick, which is not only the home of McCain Canada Headquarters but is also known as the French Fry Capital of the World! The purpose of our trip was to tour the McCain plant and also to visit a local McCain grower to see how the potatoes were harvested.

Before we visited the McCain plant, we made a quick stop for lunch at the Potato World Café and Museum, where I had the greatest sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. I don’t really need to say more than Apple, Bacon, Caramel, Grilled Cheese sandwich, do I? It sounded strange to me at first but that sandwich, paired with the crispiest sweet potato fries I’ve ever had, were an amazing start to the trip.

Potato World

Our tour guide, Tammy, knew more about potatoes than I know about anything and I loved seeing all the awesome artifacts in the museum. My favourite fact from the museum tour is that the potato was discovered by Spanish explorers in the 1500’s and became a common food at sea for their sailors when it was discovered that potatoes prevented scurvy. Of course we now know that potatoes are a huge source of potassium and fiber, and I’m thankful they have fended off the scurvy all these years later!

Our next stop was the McCain plant and while we were not permitted to take any photos inside the plant, I can assure you that I looked amazing in my hair and beard nets, along with my hardhat, goggles and jumpsuit. All jokes aside, I was very impressed with how serious McCain is about keeping a clean environment, free of contaminations, and thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Having a chance to watch the potatoes go from the truck to the conveyor belt and then following them through the washing, peeling, cutting, cooking, freezing and bagging process was really interesting. I was definitely impressed with how little amount of the potatoes get wasted as they have incredible procedures in place to get every bit of goodness out of each potato. There were so many other amazing parts to the tour, however the batter waterfall and steam peeler were definitely two of my favourites.

The following morning we headed off to visit the farm of Eugene Antworth to watch the harvesting process in action. Side note, my son’s favourite toy as a child was a small harvester tractor and I was unprepared for the delight I would have in finally seeing one in person. The little things. We had the chance to talk to Eugene about the challenges of potato farming, one of them being the fact that it was late September and the weather was pushing 40 degrees at 10 in the morning, which meant they would have to shut down the tractors before lunch time to avoid spoiling the potatoes.

McCain Antworth

I noted a hint of pride as Eugene introduced his son, Ethan, who works on the farm and would be driving the harvester for the first time in his young career. Eugene’s other son is currently in school and will join the family business upon completion of his studies. It was a story similar to that of Stan Wiebe’s, who I had the chance to meet during our planting trip in Manitoba during the spring. In talking to Ethan later on I could tell that he was happy to be a part of the family business, as opposed to feeling pressure to follow in his dad’s footsteps.

It was overwhelming to hear Eugene and Ethan talk about everything that goes into growing a well-nurtured crop. Even with the advancements in technology in the industry, growers like the Antworth’s have spent countless hours developing a value-based program in order to maximize the potential of their investment and use modern cultivating practices, follow crop scouting reports and modify their weekly schedules so they can provide the maximum benefit to the crop. The Antworth’s and their crew were absolutely amazing and the views from their farm were second to none.

McCain Antworth View

My takeaway from this year-long partnership was far different than I had expected from the outset. I came away from these experiences with a new appreciation for the food I have the privilege of enjoying and for the growers who help put it on my plate. I was unaware of the role technology played in the farming process and I believe it was Eugene Antworth who told me that the advances of technology in the agriculture field are greater than that of any other field. It was fascinating to watch as tractors guided themselves across fields and drones were used to check on the status of the crops.

Learning about the McCain products by touring the actual factory and seeing the step by step quality assurances in place was extremely reassuring. Also, knowing that McCain frozen grocery potato products are trans-fat-free and many are low in saturated fat and sodium is equally as reassuring as my kids love their potato products.

The biggest takeaway for me, however, is that no matter where we went, the common theme was family. From the Antworth and Wiebe farms to Potato World and from Grama’s restaurant to the McCain factory, it always felt like we were part of a big family. Everyone treated us with the utmost kindness and seemed genuinely happy to have us visiting their place of business. Having been around and still growing after 60 years, it would seem that having a strong, caring family is the true secret to McCain’s success.

Canadian Dad Hold McCain Potato

Disclosure: I was compensated for my participation in the McCain Farm to Fork campaign, however I wish everyone could take the tours we had the chance to take as they would be guaranteed McCain fans for life.

McCain Head Office

There’s a Passion Out There For Everyone

I’m often reminded that if something exists, there is someone who will hold a strong passion for it. For me it’s always been music. Even before I started singing I was drawn to all forms of music. For others, their passion may be Astrology, the Environment or as I’ve recently found out, Potatoes!

That’s right, a couple weeks ago I attended an event at McCain Headquarters in Toronto to kick off a year-long partnership where I will be learning the ins and outs of how McCain potato products go from #FarmToFork! I admit that I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the McCain boardroom but I can tell you that what I left with was a new appreciation for not only their products but also for potatoes themselves and the farmers who grow them.

I’m not sure where to start in describing my experience with McCain but I wish that everyone could hear McCain Foods Agriculture Manager, Eric Ritchie, speak about his passion for potatoes. He knew more about potatoes than I know about my own family and it was infectious to hear him speak about the goodness of the potato. In fact, the whole McCain story really resonated with me as it is deeply rooted in Canadian family values, having been a family owned, Canadian company for 60 years now.

As a little peek behind the blogging curtain, I took so many notes at the event that I’ve been staring at my notebook for the last hour trying to decide how I’m going to share all this information with you, and because I think all of it is important and eye-opening, I’ve decided not to cut anything. Here is the full list of my takeaways from my time with the McCain Foods team.

Working together, family to family

– The family values run deep at McCain Foods and nowhere is this more evident than the fact that 10 of their growers have been with the company for over 55 years. It’s loyalty and family all rolled into one.

– McCain Foods is the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen French fries and potato specialties. I could have guessed that they were Canada’s largest producer but was surprised to hear they were a world leader. Go Canada! When Eric described the size of the warehouse where the potatoes were stored, I immediately pictured the farmers diving into them like Scrooge McDuck in his money vault. Give me a break, I have young children who love cartoons!

Farmers and their potatoes; simple ingredients, simply prepared

– The simplicity of the food process is as easy as wash, peel, cut, cook and freeze. Delicious food you can trust and feel comfortable serving to your family. On top of that, McCain takes their potatoes so seriously they even created the Potato Technology Centre in Florenceville, New Brunswick to provide ongoing research and ensure McCain continues to deliver the best quality products.

– One of my favourite parts of the presentation was when the question of food waste came up. I have seen documentaries that discussed what farmers are forced to do with food that does not look perfect, so I was pleasantly surprised when Eric described how McCain works in that regard. He pulled out a bag of what would be considered “less desirable” potatoes and cut them open to demonstrate how while McCain discards any rotten or damaged portions of the potato, they make a concerted effort to use as much as possible of every potato harvested.

The Power Vegetable!

– That brings us to the most important part of the potato. Its nutritional value is off the charts! The great thing about the potato is that it gives you excellent coverage in multiple categories including vitamin B6, potassium, fiber and vitamin C. Obviously this only really works if you are not adding a ton of grease, sour cream or butter and the good news from McCain is that all of their frozen grocery potato products are trans fat-free and many are low in saturated fat and sodium! Potatoes may not look exciting to you but recognizing the goodness of the potato can benefit all of us.

After the boardroom session we were treated to a buffet of different McCain potato products and after learning all I had just learned about potatoes, I may have eaten double what I normally would… Before I get out of here, I’m going to share a few of my family’s favourite McCain products but want to hear in the comments which ones you guys buy the most! Here’s our list!

McCain Spicy Lattice Cut Fries

McCain Lattice Spicy

These are daddy’s #1 choice of McCain fries and I will occasionally even eat them as a main course. The kids are still coming around in the spicy foods department but I’m happy to eat what they leave behind on their plates.

McCain Superfries Crinkle Cut Fries

McCain Superfries

This is a staple that has been in my family since I was a little boy and my kids love them as much as I did. Oh, and did I mention that they are Trans Fat-Free, Cholesterol- Free, Low in Saturated Fat? Yeah, we are big fans of the Crinkle Cuts in our house!

McCain Breakfast Potato Pancakes

McCain Potato Pancakes

Nothing against Homefries as we love them too, but there’s something about the Potato Pancakes that have us gravitating towards them whenever we are at the grocery store. We also add some of our own seasoning to them after they bake to give them some extra kick!

McCain Smiles

McCain Smiles

Confession. I actually called these Smilies for the longest time before my kids corrected me. The Smiles were actually how we introduced the kids to French fries because the kids loved the fact that there were smiley faces on their plates. In fact, we still serve them today because who couldn’t use more smiling in their lives?

As mentioned earlier, this is the beginning of a year long partnership between my family and McCain Canada and I can’t wait to share our adventures with you. Later this year I’ll be visiting multiple farms to observe the harvesting process and to see how everything is put together from start to finish. In the meantime please feel free to leave a comment here or on the Canadian Dad Facebook page to let me know your family’s favourite McCain products and also what you are most passionate about!


This post is sponsored by McCain, as part of our #FarmtoFork partnership. The opinions on this blog, as always, are my own.