French-fry tycoon Simplot dies at 99

Updated: 2008-05-27 07:14

J.R. Simplot, the billionaire founder of the Boise, Idaho-based agriculture business that bears his name and who helped make French fries a staple of the American diet and waistline, died on Sunday at the age of 99, officials said.

After pioneering the first commercial frozen French fry in the late 1940s, Simplot eventually became a major supplier of Idaho potatoes to McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's. His privately held company, where he was chairman emeritus, reported $3.3 billion in sales in 2006.

An official at the Ada County Coroner's office said Simplot died at home on Sunday morning of natural causes.

Born John Richard Simplot in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1909, he left school at the age of 14 to work in the agriculture storage and distribution business. He started his first produce company in 1929, and eventually became a major supplier of dehydrated potatoes to the US military during World War II.

In the late 1940s, Simplot's researchers began experimenting with frozen potato products. His company began producing frozen French fries in Idaho in 1946 and the business thrived with the spread of freezers into American homes.

Simplot's most well-known business venture began with a handshake. In 1967, Simplot and McDonald's founder Ray Kroc shook hands and agreed the Simplot Company would provide frozen French fries to the expanding fast-food chain.

The company expanded to several potato processing plants in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, and eventually Australia and China.

The postwar spread of processed American fast food has had a significant impact on the nation's health, with the popularity of such food contributing to an obesity epidemic.

The Simplot company also operates a feedlot business, with operations in Idaho and Washington turning out about 400,000 head of cattle per year.

The firm owns and operates fertilizer manufacturing plants in Idaho, and a Simplot company called Grower Solutions has about 70 stores selling agricultural products in the West.


(China Daily 05/27/2008 page16)