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The Idaho Potato Commission in Eagle, ID, which has been exhibiting at the Produce Marketing Association's foodservice expo for "at least the 21 years" that Don Odiorne has been with the commission, will be there again this year at the Aug. 1 expo in Monterey, CA.

“What we are featuring at the booth is a mini-version of what we did at the National Restaurant [Association] Show,” said Mr. Odiorne, the commission’s vice president of foodservice. At the NRA show, which was held May 21-24 in Chicago, “we introduced a new web site that is targeted towards a younger audience.”

The web site features videos “centered around the antics and the adventures” of an animated potato daredevil character called “Stunt Tater” along with his coach, his girlfriend, a sports “Comment Tater” and several other characters. There are six episodes on the web site, in which “Stunt Tater” undertakes various daring feats such as walking a tightrope, high diving, running an obstacle course and jumping across a volcano. Each entertaining episode is sponsored by a different potato dish, such as “parmesan fried Idaho potatoes, brought to you by the Idaho Potato Commission.”

“We will have the episodes playing” at the booth at the foodservice show and will also be giving out premiums,” Mr. Odiorne said.

The same approach was used at the NRA show “as a way to see if we couldn’t attract crowds, … and we certainly accomplished that.” In addition, “we gave away some potato stress balls that are in the shapes of the characters” as well as some beverage coasters featuring “Stunt Tater” and his coach. “At the National Restaurant [Association] show, we gave out approximately 9,600 of the stress balls,” he said. “We really had some good success with attracting attention and trying to get our point across that we are heavily involved in social media,” as the videos are also on YouTube and Digg and “are getting posted on Dailymotion … in addition to being on our regular Idahopotato.com web site.”

The “Spud Tater” videos are only one example of the Idaho Potato Commission’s use of videos on social media. “Right now, the IPC has 70 videos on YouTube,” Mr. Odiorne said. Most of those are how-to videos with preparation tips for various potato dishes, and the majority are for fresh potatoes. The most popular features Dawn Wells, the actress who played Mary Ann on the long-running TV sitcom Gilligan’s Island and who has long been a celebrity spokesperson for Idaho potatoes. In the video, she demonstrates “how to boil fresh potatoes and then peel them, and that has nearly 11 million views.”

But “the real work-horses of our video program are the short videos that we have from Kendall College,” a culinary school in Chicago, he said. “There we have several videos on preparation tips — both classic and unusual ways to fix Idaho potatoes.”

Mr. Odiorne said he also does a weekly blog on the Idahopotato.com web site called Dr. Potato, on which he posts answers to “questions that we get here at the office” both from consumers and from people in foodservice.”

The commission works directly with chefs in its foodservice programs, according to Mr. Odiorne. “I truly think we are one of a very small handful of associations, boards and commissions that actually go out to operator chains and work with the corporate chefs and bring tools to them” and also bring in guest chefs.

“We work with them on menu ideas. These ideations, as we call them, have been very successful” at getting Idaho potatoes on menus, he added. Typically, “we try to present eight to 12 recipes where we actually go in the kitchen and cook,” and the corporate chefs pick from the various recipes “the ones that have the best potential in their menus.”

The commission just recently did such an event for Jason’s Deli, headquartered in Beaumont, TX, with locations in 28 states. Others are scheduled in July for Hard Rock Resorts, Golden Coral and Great Steak & Fries, he said.

The commission is participating this year in several programs with Plate magazine, “a foodservice magazine that is targeted toward chefs,” Mr. Odiorne said. “Plate … is working with the culinary schools in various cities around the country, and over the course of 12 months will visit six cities.” They will “bring in chefs that prepare recipes” featured in the magazine. Idaho potatoes are one of several non-competitive sponsors of the program. “We typically get anywhere from 50 to 75 chefs” at these events.”

The chefs “sit in on presentations where other chefs are preparing food, then divide into teams and go into the kitchens at the culinary school” where they are “charged with preparing four different challenges” — appetizer, side dish, entre and dessert — using ingredients from furnished “market baskets” that include Idaho potatoes and other ingredients, he explained.

The commission also engages in various activities with distributors, and “we are encouraging our field staff to do seminars on potatoes,” Mr. Odiorne said. Participants are mostly distributor sales representatives. “We have a half- dozen already planned for the fall” and hope to increase that. Anyone interested in participating should sign up right away, “because we need some advanced time to be able to plan these … . What we are finding” is that after attending one of the seminars, “the DSR is a lot more comfortable in selling potatoes” and is more familiar with “the different varieties and various usages” and is also “familiar with our tools.”