The Van Trump Report

Son of Potato Farmer Takes the French Fry Global… and Becomes Billionaire!

Dubbed the ‘King of the French Fry’ Harrison McCain was a straight-talking son of a potato farmer, who along with his brother Wallace, would create a global commodity and a calling card of American culture, the frozen “French Fry”. 

Until Harrison came along the potatoes grown on land near his home had always been baked or cooked in water or oil. But Harrison was intuitive enough to one day ask a crucial question, what if the potatoes were precooked and then frozen so that cooking them meant simply popping them in the oven?

Along with some help from his brother Wallace and other family members, Harrison used the family inheritance to set up a plant for processing the local potato crop. They employed 30 people from his small town of Florenceville, western New Brunswick, and gained some financing help from the state to help locally grow the business. 

In the beginning, the plant could produce 1,700 pounds of frozen fries each hour. The McCains saw revenues from the first year of operation of just over +$150,000. Growth sprouted from there and the family would start to venture beyond the borders of Canada. McCain would first introduce their frozen fries to the U.K. in 1965, then expand sales to Australia in 1968, and the U.S. in 1969 as they continued to grow worldwide through acquisitions and investment in facilities.

Selling the frozen french fry was nonetheless not as easy in the 1960s as we might imagine. The McCain brothers and their salesmen visited restaurant owners and chefs across the world in an effort to convince them of the advantages of the frozen french fry. Keep in mind, infrastructure for storing frozen food was lacking at the time so in many cases they were talking to business owners about an entirely new market.

French fries were always the centerpiece of McCain’s selling strategy, the good news is he conceived the idea just as “fast food” began to take off in America. I read that McDonald’s would become one of the company’s biggest buyers. McCain believed that French fries were part of the inexorable Americanization of the world, stating that “Americanization at the time included the likes of Coca-Cola, blue jeans, American movies, American music, and French fries.” When McCain was once asked about the secret of his success he answered, “Right place, right time. Next question.” But hard work never hurt, either, as he calculated that he spent +140 nights in one year on his corporate jet traveling on inspection trips to branch plants or sales offices in Europe, Australia, and Japan.

By 1993 the business had grown to hold assets of +$1.8 billion, over +12,500 employees, and had annual worldwide sales north of +$3 billion. This success didn’t come without its inevitable disagreements within the family and disputes over future leadership. Eventually, brother Wallace would leave the company, but maintained his one-third shares as he moved on to become chair of Maple Leaf Foods.

What I really like about the company and its executive team is the fact they constantly look to pivot into areas where they believe they can create a strong competitive advantage, meaning constantly investing in product innovation and not being scared of venturing into a new space. But perhaps even more important is the fact they are not afraid to discard and drop the ideas or business channels that no longer work. As an example, remember the very successful McCain pizza and juices, they were willing to pull the plug on both ventures when the markets changed and they thought they had lost their edge. Former McCain Foods President in Canada, Shai Altman had sound advice that we should all adhere to… “When businesses don’t make much business sense, you have to immediately divest them and look for opportunities elsewhere.” 

Today, McCain is a global leader in frozen potato products, which are available in over 160 countries and the company has production facilities on six continents, over +20,000 employees, and produces over one million pounds of potato products each hour. It’s worth noting that one out of every four fries eaten in the world is a McCain French fry, quite an accomplishment for two potato farming brothers. I should note, both brothers and their kids are listed amongst the richest in all of Canada. (Source: Guardian, New York Times,, Atlantic Business Magazine)


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