Moses Lake, WA 98837, USA

Food processors ready to meet increased demand

Staff Writer

EAGLE, Idaho — Potato processor Lamb Weston said that grocery store sales of frozen french fries and processed potatoes “are up significantly” as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and the “stay-at-home” orders issued by a number of state governors across the U.S.

Lamb Weston President and CEO Tom Werner spoke during a conference call April 1 outlining the company’s performance for its fiscal third quarter, which ended on Feb. 23.

Idaho-based Lamb Weston employs roughly 7,000 people worldwide. It has production facilities in Quincy and Warden, as well as a number of plants in and around the Tri-Cities.

Werner said that demand for french fries in China declined by 50 percent for a month following the government’s imposition of restrictions, including restaurant closures, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the United States, about 65 percent of all french fries are bought at fast-food restaurants, 20 percent at “full serve” restaurants and the remainder in grocery stores, Werner said.

Sean Connolly, president and CEO of Conagra Brands — the former parent company of Lamb Weston — said in a separate earnings call on March 31 that all of the company’s North American facilities “are open and running at high levels of utilization.” He said as long as the company’s supply and distribution chains function, the company should be able to continue keeping grocery stores supplied as long as the isolation measures are in place.

The Columbia Basin is also host to a number of privately owned food processing companies, including National Frozen Foods — which has plants in Moses Lake and near Quincy — as well as Basic American Foods, juice and pulp maker SVZ, and potato processors J.R. Simplot and McCain Foods. McCain Foods last year announced a major, $300 million expansion to the company’s processing plant in Othello.