Idaho boasts a well-earned reputation as the potato capital, and Idaho Steel has played a significant part in potato processing for over a century.
And now, they’re focused on the future of formed foods with a new innovation.
Based in Idaho Falls, the company’s introduction of the Next-Gem Lab Former marks a valuable innovation in the potato processing industry. From its origins as a metal fabrication business, Idaho Steel has emerged as a leading manufacturer of potato processing equipment, serving markets across the globe.
The forming machine, according to Jon Christiensen, director of sales and marketing at Idaho Steel, is a pioneering advancement in potato processing. Unlike the large production machines that have been their hallmark, this new model caters to test facilities. It offers a smaller, more flexible design while retaining the essential features of its larger counterparts. This innovation enables their customers to conduct research and development on new potato shapes efficiently, with lower costs and reduced product volumes.
“What’s nice about this machine is how you’re able to change the shapes. So, the same machine that makes tater tots, is the same machine that makes McDonald’s hash browns,” he said. “We’re proud that our name is Idaho Steel and we get to take the name Idaho, all around the world.”
The machine is already available and is being used by companies both domestically and internationally, Christiensen said.
The machine can produce a wide range of products, including puffs, waffles, patties, rings, tots and plant-based protein alternatives. It allows creators the flexibility to bring their concepts to life in various shapes and sizes. Its adaptability also makes it useful, not only for diverse culinary innovations, but also for accommodating unique shapes inspired by children’s cartoons from different countries.
Beyond culinary ingenuity, Christiensen added, this innovation holds significant implications for sustainability. By processing imperfect potatoes that would otherwise go to waste, Idaho Steel aims to contribute to global food waste reduction.
“Consumers want the very nice-looking potato when they go to the store. They want one that is perfect-looking with no bumps or knots or cracks,” he said. “Those are the potatoes that we take and turn into a nice-looking french fry or tater tot.”
Idaho Steel is currently involved in projects in India, where they play a role in the dehydration of potatoes for products like instant mashed potatoes and popular snacks like Pringles.
“We travel anywhere where there are potatoes — our equipment can be found on every continent except Antarctica,” he said. “Fresh potatoes eventually go bad, and we help turn them into products that feed people around the world.”