Idaho is known for potatoes. Idaho continues to lead the nation in potato production, as it has done for many years, and more than 96 percent of the Idaho Potato Commission’s target audience identify Idaho as the state best known for growing potatoes.
Internationally, people also associate the Idaho name with potatoes, as Frank Muir, president of the IPC, has observed on many occasions, and Idaho now ships fresh potatoes to more than 20 export markets.Frank Muir
But “even though we are the No. 1 brand in potatoes, we are not resting on our laurels,” Muir said, in an interview with The Produce News Nov. 17. “We continue to grow our strength,” building the Idaho brand both nationally and internationally.
When The Produce News talked to Muir, he and other IPC staff members had just returned from a trade mission to Chile and Brazil. “We had a very successful trip, especially regarding dehy,” he said. “So I think we will be shipping dehydrated potatoes down to both countries shortly.” With fresh potatoes, “we’ve got a few more challenges there, particularly with Brazil, but hopefully we will be able to work some of those things out and ship Idaho potatoes fresh down south.”
Domestically, Idaho’s potato production represents about one-third of all U.S. potatoes harvested each year, Muir said. The state’s 2014 harvest, which was just recently completed, yielded about 13 billion pounds of potatoes from a little over 320,000 acres. “That is enough potatoes to fill 500 football stadiums 10 feet high,” he said.
The crop size is down from what was expected earlier in the season due to cool weather in the weeks before harvest. The weather also delayed the timing of the crop, which had been expected to be early. In the end, it turned out to be about a normal-sized crop with normal timing, and “what I would call a right-sized crop for this year,” Muir said. That has been good for the markets, as prices were rising approaching the holiday period, something that they typically may not do. “I think that is a positive indication for how this year will turn out.”
Idaho has a reputation not only for being the No. 1 potato-growing state but also for having a quality product, Muir noted. “Every time we conduct research, we will ask things like what word first comes to mind when you hear ‘Idaho potatoes,’ and the No. 1 word is always quality, so Idaho has a very strong, positive imagery in consumers’ minds.”
One of the things the Idaho potato industry is doing to strengthen the Idaho brand nationally and expand it internationally is to “expand our portfolio of potato offerings,” Muir said. Traditionally, Idaho has been known for its russet potatoes, but over the past decade, growers have diversified their offerings and many of them now offer an assortment of specialty potato varieties. In fact, the No. 1 grower of fingerling potatoes in the country today is an Idaho potato grower, and “Idaho has become the No. 2 grower of reds” in the United States. It is something we as an industry here in Idaho can be very proud of.”
So popular are Idaho potatoes that many people make the assumption that whatever potatoes they see in the market are most likely from Idaho, so they may often buy potatoes they think are Idaho-grown when, in fact, they are not. For that reason, one of the major messages the IPC pushes in its consumer outreach is the importance of looking for the “Grown in Idaho” seal .”We have created this incredibly strong brand imagery,” he said, “so we have to convince folks to always be looking for the ‘Grown in Idaho’ seal in order to make sure they are getting genuine Idaho potatoes.”
For its 75th anniversary celebration three years ago, the IPC launched a big flatbed truck with a giant Idaho potato on the back on a national tour. The tour was so successful that it was sent out across the country again in 2013 and then again this year. In all, the Big Idaho Potato Truck has travelled more than 75,000 miles, and there are plans to extend the campaign at least another two years. Everywhere the truck goes, it garners press coverage and attracts TV camera crews as well as crowds of spectators. “It has been incredibly successful,” Muir said.
For the 2014 tour, the 75th Anniversary logo on the side of the truck was changed to read, “You know it’s real when you see the seal,” encouraging people to look for the “Grown in Idaho” seal.
The commission has partnered with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign, reminding people that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and that message appears on the back of the truck. “It also helps that our truck is red,” Muir said.
Idaho potatoes are certified as heart healthy by the AHA and “can bear the Heart Check Mark on all of our advertising and promotions,” he added.
Playing off of the truck’s success, the IPC has launched for the 2014-15 marketing season, a new television commercial, the third in a series portraying an actual Idaho potato farmer, Mark Coombs, lamenting that the truck and the Tater Team went out across the country and were having so much fun that they won’t come home. People loved the first ad, so last year, a new ad depicted the farmer and his dog, a bloodhound, taking off across the country looking for the truck in a red and white vintage Studebaker pickup. In the new ad, Coombs and another Idaho potato farmer, James Hoff, fly across the country in search of the truck in a red and white 1943 Stearman biplane.
The commercial, which will air on national cable television through February, has been well received, Muir said. “People love the story line.”
In its foodservice promotions, the commission continues with its February Potato Lovers Month display contest, “probably the most successful retail contest in produce in the country,” Muir said. Now in its 24th year, the contest has grown from an average of 600 participants prior to 2005 to more than 4,500 displays the past two years.
“On the foodservice side,” he said, “we continue to work with chefs in a wide range of ways to expand their use of potatoes in very creative ways.”