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French Fry Vending Device A Hot Product

Say you’re waiting for a plane, and you want a snack. The purveyors of $7 hamburgers have closed for the night. There’s nothing but vending machines, offering the usual fare of candy bars, chips and soda.

But there, glowing between the more conventional vending machines, is something different. “HOT FRIES IN 45 SECONDS,” it promises. “French Fried Potatoes. Hot, wholesome french fries straight from the oven!”

Feed in five quarters and stand by. Soon, there’s a fat cup of very hot, very fresh fries. In cut and taste, they’re remarkably like the ones you get at McDonald’s.

Grant Jones, spokesman for Ore-Ida Foods, sighs at the comparison. Ore-Ida, which makes the unusual vending machine and also sells fries to Arby’s, Carls Jr., Wendy’s, Burger King, Dairy Queen and more, doesn’t sell fries to McDonald’s.

Instead, the golden arches have fries made by Simplot Corp., another giant Boise-based potato processor.

“That’d be a nice piece of business,” Jones says. “You know, you can’t have ‘em all.”

But Ore-Ida is the leader in the world of coin-drop fries.

After seven years in the works, the machine was introduced about two years ago and now is found in nearly 300 locations worldwide. The Boise Airport has the only one in Idaho, not counting the one at the Ore-Ida employee cafeteria in Boise.

Just installed a month ago, the airport machine already is a big success, selling between 200 and 300 cups of fries a week.

It’s an attention-getter, too. Airport workers spotted an entire family of tourists from back East taking turns, having each family member’s picture taken with the vending machine.

From a gas station in New Zealand to a Navy base in Virginia to a university in New York, folks are buying fries on the spot from machines that proclaim, “When it says Ore-Ida, it’s All-Righta!”

The machine uses a hot-air convection oven, rather than deep-frying in oil. That’s why the big cup of fries has only 290 calories. The fries are precooked and frozen.

It’s been awarded the American Product Excellence Merit Award, commonly called the APEX award. It’s the first vending machine to ever receive the award. It’s also the highest award ever for Ore-Ida or parent company Heinz.

“French fries are extremely popular,” Jones said. “So you combine the popularity and the novelty and the convenience, and people are going for it.”

Count the nation’s military leaders among them. The most active fry-vending machine in the country? It’s at the Pentagon.

At least you know what it is

Sometimes kindergarten classrooms have block-letter labels on things, like “CHAIR” on a chair, “WINDOW” by a window.

Boise has something of the same effect at the tower of its historic railroad depot, which now says, in bold block letters, “DEPOT.”

It used to say Morrison-Knudsen Depot. The city bought the building from the ailing construction company for $1.5 million this year, and promptly removed the company’s name.

Plans are to add “BOISE,” so the tower will say “Boise Depot.” That’s what the building historically was called, said Suzanne Burton, spokeswoman for Boise Mayor Brent Coles.

But the city’s afraid that if it puts up the letters, everyone will think the fund-raising project to buy the depot is over. Actually, the city still has about $70,000 to raise. M-K let the city take possession before the final payment was in.

The new letters have been made, and are all ready to install. Burton said the city plans a grand installation ceremony - after it pulls in the last few donations.

, DataTimes MEMO: North-South Notes runs every other Saturday. To reach Betsy Z. Russell, call 336- 2854, fax to 336-0021 or e-mail to bzrussell@rmci.net.

North-South Notes runs every other Saturday. To reach Betsy Z. Russell, call 336- 2854, fax to 336-0021 or e-mail to bzrussell@rmci.net.

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