Like other food processors, McCain Foods USA, Lisle, Ill., has been somewhat weighed down by increased ingredient and energy costs. Then again, Chief Executive Officer Frank van Schaayk has this snack and appetizer giant striving for much more than cost controls.

“We are building America’s best food company,” he recently told Refrigerated & Frozen Foods. “We say ‘building,’” he continues, “because we realize that it’s a process. America, of course, is our market and ‘best’ reflects our drive to develop best practices in every aspect of our business. And compared to when we began, we’re much more of an all-around ‘food company’ now.”

Today’s company is a $1.6 billion enterprise that - while holding on to its Northeast retail pizza and potato business - has become a foodservice market leader. Following its purchases of Ore-Ida’s foodservice operations and Anchor Foods, McCain emerged in 2001 as the nation’s largest frozen appetizer supplier. It likewise has become one of the largest frozen potato processors. More recently, product development and deal-making have extended McCain’s reach into other areas such as desserts, fire-roasted frozen fruit and vegetables and dough-enrobed hand-held entrees and snacks.

Notes van Schaayk, “Health and convenience are big drivers in foodservice. And it’s not as though convenience is a new trend. These acquisitions (Colton, Calif., vegetable processor Jon-Lin Foods and an Indiana dough-enrobing plant) simply give us new technology platforms and enable us to create more products that are quick and easy to eat and that are better for you.”

In potatoes, officials say McCain’s goal is to go beyond traditional fries with forms that please operators and consumers alike. New offerings include Sweet Potato Crinkle Fries and McCain Homestyle Babycakes mini potato pancakes.

New appetizers include Brew City Cheddar Pints (beer-battered cheese curds) and Black & Tan Onion Rings (drizzled with dark stout beer). New entries in the Moore’s line include Flour Flip’t onion rings (the first to emulate back-of-the-house flour coating, officials say).

McCain also has made tremendous strides with better-for-you products. It achieved a 0-gram trans fat claim on its retail potato products in 2003 and, by the end of 2007, researchers had eliminated trans fat in more than 1,000 foodservice offerings.

Last April, McCain committed to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s (AHG) guidelines for competitive foods sold in schools. In doing so, McCain pledged to support new products, public education and demonstrate efforts to improve child nutrition in U.S. schools. By the end of 2007, McCain said it had 19 school foodservice products that fit within AHG nutrition guidelines - containing fewer than 35 percent calories from fat, 0g trans fat, fewer than 10 percent calories from saturated fat and 230 mg of sodium or less per one half-cup vegetable serving.

For The Record

Dec. ‘07 - Parent McCain Foods Ltd. says it will invest C$150 million to build a French fry and potato specialties plant in the U.S. Northwest. Start-up is slated for late summer 2009.

Nov. ‘07 - Frank D. Finn joins McCain Foods USA as senior vice president-commercial operations.

June ‘07- Parent McCain Foods Ltd., Florenceville, New Brunswick, Canada, celebrates 50-year company anniversary.

April ‘07- McCain commits to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s (AHG) guidelines for competitive foods sold in schools. AHG is a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation to promote healthier eating and physical activity.