Growth of Five Guys franchises spurs potato, onion sales
By JOHN O'CONNELL
Rick Miles became the exclusive potato supplier for Five Guys Burgers and Fries nine years ago with only a verbal agreement and a handshake.
Five Guys had five locations when Rigby-based Rick Miles Produce Service, Inc., worked through a food distributor to furnish the chain its first 150 bags of Idaho spuds. Impressed by the quality, Five Guys scheduled a meeting with Miles to develop a supply program.
Nowadays, Five Guys is one of the fastest growing chain in the U.S., adding more than 200 stores per year for the past two years. To keep pace, Miles Produce Service has also grown exponentially.
"We went from 150 bags every 10 days to now selling 45,000 to 55,000 bags per week," Miles said.
Miles recently broke ground on an office and cross-docking facility in Idaho Falls to include 10,000 square feet of refrigerated warehouse space and 2,500 square feet of office space. Prepackaged Oregon onions and Idaho potatoes will be shipped throughout the country from the new facility, intended to relieve tight storage capacity at packing plants.
Five Guys, based in Virginia, lends prestige to the Idaho potato brand, emphasizing at each restaurant the city and grower of origin for the day's potato supply.
Friends sometimes report to American Falls potato grower Klaren Koompin they've seen his name on a Five Guys dry-erase board in another state. Koompin also likes the Five Guys tradition of leaving bags of spuds with the Idaho seal in plain view.
"It's a neat marketing niche. People are walking around the spuds they order," Koompin said.
Miles also sources some spuds from Oregon and Washington and plans to expand both his Idaho and Washington grower base in the coming year.
Miles, 59, entered the potato industry at age 13, working part time at his uncle's packing facility. He attended Idaho State University in Pocatello but left college to work full time as an assistant manager for his uncle. He opened his own distribution business 18 years ago.
Miles recalled his first meeting with Five Guys CEO Jerry Murrell in an open-air food court.
"There were six or seven eateries in the food court. Ninety percent of all the people were eating in the Five Guys establishment," he said.
Today Five Guys represents about 99 percent of Miles' business.
"We only have one major customer, so we're particularly attentive to make sure we do things right for them," Miles said.
Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission, believes the partnership between Miles and Five Guys is reminiscent of the agreement J.R. Simplot reached years ago with Ray Kroc of McDonald's. On a handshake and a promise, Simplot supplied all of the fast food restaurant's fries.
"They have trusted (Miles) to provide all of their potatoes. I mean that's a huge commitment to one guy," Muir said.