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The Idaho Potato Commission is seeing record interest in its Potato Lover's Month retail display contest.

"We are finding there is more interest in the [Potato Lover's Month retail display] contest than I have ever seen before, said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail for the Idaho Potato Commission in Eagle, ID.

In a Jan. 19 interview with The Produce News, Mr. Pemsler said that he attributes the unusually high interest in this year's Potato Lover's Month contest "to the importance of potatoes today in our recessionary environment."

Potato volume at retail "is up by more than 10 percent for the past six months, which reaffirms how important potatoes are in this recessionary time," he continued. "Potatoes are still the best value for the consumers. They are eating more at home and they are looking for value, and potatoes are delivering that value."

When The Produce News talked to Mr. Pemsler, he was on a marketing trip and had just met with a major national retailer whose potato volume was up by more than 10 percent. "They have basically said, 'We know that the consumer is moving back to the category,'" Mr. Pemsler said.

"Retailers are trying to demonstrate the fact that they offer value and low pricing to consumers, and have used the potato category to demonstrate that," he said. And because potatoes are already an increased focus, the commission is experiencing a greater-than-ever response to Potato Lover's Month.

"What we are seeing is many, many more retailers who have never done it in the past coming to us and saying 'Yes, I want to participate.'"

Although the final count of participants was not yet available, "I will be shocked if we don't far exceed historical highs" for participation in the contest "because there are so many retailers recognizing that potatoes are an opportunity for them to send messages to their consumers and pull them into the produce section," he added. "We are very encouraged that this will be our most successful contest in its 19-year history."

The 2010 Potato Lover's Month contest offers more than $150,000 in cash and prizes "to retailers showcasing 'spudtacular' Idaho potato displays in February, a.k.a. Potato Lover's Month," according to a commission press release on the promotion. The first-place prize in each of three store categories is $1,500 cash. Second- through fifth-place winners in each category as well as 100 honorable mentions will also receive cash prizes. Every qualified entrant will receive a wireless indoor-outdoor speaker.

Once again, the commission is "teaming up with 'Mrs. Dash Seasonings’ and ‘Molly McButter’ to help retailers add spice to their displays and drive traffic to the produce department," the release stated.

"To enter, stores must create an attention-grabbing display" promoting Idaho potatoes, both fresh and dehydrated, as well as "Mrs. Dash Seasonings" and “Molly McButter,” and prominently featuring the commission's Potato Lover's Month point-of-sales materials, according to the release. Displays must be in place, in the produce section of the store, at least one week during the Jan. 25 to Feb. 26, 2010, contest period.

The contest is open to retail supermarket chains and independents only.