The fascinating history of McCain Foods

The fascinating history of McCain Foods

I’ll admit it, we occasionally have chips and yes, the boys and I have had them at IKEA, too. My kids adore chips, in particular, McCain sweet potato wedges. Chips are really just potato, and most of the frozen ones are so low in fat these days that it’s not a problem.

Plus, potatoes are virtually fat free, an energy high in carbohydrates, and are packed with fibre, vitamin C, potassium and iron.

The occasional chip won’t harm. One of my boys had meatballs and chips in a café a few weeks ago for lunch and I felt like waving a sign over my head saying, ‘He normally eats healthy food!’ It’s funny how we worry what other people think.

Anyhow, what I love about McCain Foods is the fact they don’t use artificial colours or flavours and are also low in saturated fat, fat and sugar. And since my family and I are such fans of McCain’s products, I thought I’d talk about the fascinating history of the company.

Who Was Harrison McCain?

Harrison McCain was born on 3 November 1927 and died on 18 March 2004, and is survived by is four children, Mark, Ann, Laura and Gillian. And it’s thanks to him that we can indulge in their chips or French Fries without having to brave blisteringly hot fat in deep-fry pans.

Coined the ‘King of the French Fry’, McCain developed a chilled chip that could simply be cooked in the oven.

Harrison was the son of a seed potato exporter and had previously been employed as a salesman for the Canadian company Irving Oil after graduating in economics from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, in 1949.

Where Did McCain Foods Start?

McCain – with the help of his brother Wallace – founded McCain Foods Ltd in New Brunswick in 1956 aged 29, with their first production facility opening in their hometown of Florenceville, Canada. And by 1957, the brothers’ first French fry plant began with 30 employees.

McCain Foods took the world by storm, quickly becoming a much-loved brand in the Canadian marketplace. It wasn’t long before it became the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen French fries and potato specialities.

In the 1950s, frozen and convenient food was the name of the game and McCain developed into a huge household brand and a worldwide leader in the food market.

How Did He Set It Up?

Thanks to a C$100,000 (£59,000) inheritance, McCain erected a plant on cow pasture to process a local potato crop and hired 30 people in Florenceville.

Family Feuds Along the Way

Harrison’s younger sibling, Wallace, helped him launch the business together with his other brothers Andrew and Robert. But Wallace challenged Harrison about who ran the business, which resulted in a lengthy series of lawsuits, costing the brothers more than £2m by 1994, seeing them constantly at odds with one another. However, Wallace continued to own one-third of the shares in the company.

The King of Chips

Harrison quickly became the master of straight-cut fries, crinkle-cut fries and flat round fries in the form of smiling faces. What’s more, he produced fruit juice and various other frozen foods, such as pizzas, vegetables and desserts.

All of this led him to acquire many honours, namely the Canadian business statesman award from the Harvard Business School, Toronto, in 1988.

Other awards included an honorary doctorate of civil law from Acadia University along with an honorary doctorate from McGill University. He was even dubbed a Companion of the Order of Canada and an honorary life member of the Potato Association of America.

Where Does McCain Operate Today?

These days, McCain Foods trades across six continents (44 countries), with 45 sites, working with 3,200 farmers, and uses more than 6.5 million tonnes of potatoes each year. That’s a lot of frozen chips! In fact, it produces more frozen chips than any other in the world.

The business has grown hugely over the years, from 30 employees back in 1957 (with global sales of CND$150,000/£88,000) to more than 20,000 people with global sales of CDN$9bn/£5.3bn.

Pretty amazing guy, huh? He was indeed the king of French fries, the driving force in a Canadian food empire that conquered the world. What would the world be without McCain? I can’t imagine a world without this most addictive finger food known to man, and for that, we have McCain to thank. After all, what’s more satisfying than a plate of chips dredged in salt and vinegar? Thank goodness for Harrison McCain.


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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

Personal Finance Expert

I write about personal finance made simple, lifestyle choices that will save you time and money, as well as products and services that offer great value.

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