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The overall theme of the Idaho Potato Commission’s promotional programs for the 2011 crop and the 2011-12 marketing season is the organization’s Diamond Jubilee.

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Frank Muir

The year 2012 is “the 75th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission, and everything we are doing” for the 2012 fiscal year that starts with the 2011 harvest “is tied to reinforcing that anniversary and promoting the strength of the [Idaho] brand,” said Frank Muir, who has been president of the commission for eight of its 75 years.

“We are launching [the year-long 75th anniversary celebration] with several major events,” one of which will be a yearlong 75th Anniversary Famous Idaho Potatoes Tour featuring a semi-truck with a flat-bed trailer carrying a giant replica of an Idaho spud.

Almost everyone has “seen post cards out of Idaho showing a giant potato on the back of a semi-truck,” Mr. Muir said. That image was the inspiration for the tour. The thought was that the commission could send everyone in the United States one of the post cards or, better yet, could “make it come to life” by building an oversized potato onto the back of a big rig and driving it all over the country for everyone to see.

“On this big truck, we will have a huge logo” that has been designed to mark the commission’s 75th anniversary, he said. It will also sport the logo of the new Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (which is being launched this year), the Heart Check Mark (which the American Heart Association has just recently approved for use on all Idaho potatoes), and also the logo for Meals on Wheels.

“We are going to be promoting Meals on Wheels” as well as Idaho potatoes through the tour, Mr. Muir continued. “We are going to donate $100,000 to Meals on Wheels, put the Meals on Wheels logo on the big truck, and talk about Meals on Wheels and do local promotions with them wherever we travel across the country.”

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Meals on Wheels “provides over 1 million meals every single day to elderly and shut-ins,” he said.

The 75th Anniversary Famous Idaho Potatoes Tour will officially launch on Dec. 17 at the inaugural game of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium in Boise, ID. Contestants in that game will be a team from the Western Athletic Conference and one from the Mid-Atlantic Conference. The big truck with the giant Idaho potato will be in the parking lot before and during the game “so ESPN cameras can film it and put it on national television.” It will then “start rolling across the country” and travel “the whole year,” making stops in all parts of the nation from New York and Florida to the West Coast, he said.

The launch of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is one of the “big” things the commission is doing to make a splash for its 75th anniversary. The press conference at which the bowl game was announced generated more than 116 million media impressions across the country, Mr. Muir said.

Throughout the college football season, the commission will continue its partnership with Boise State University as well as with the University of Idaho in Moscow, ID.

Fitness guru Denise Austin “will continue to be our spokesperson,” he said. She is featured in a new television commercial in which “she announces that the American Heart Association has now certified Idaho potatoes as heart healthy” and has authorized use of the Heart Check Mark on Idaho potatoes.

That commercial will be premiered nationally on ESPN during the Boise State-Georgia football game to be held Sept. 3 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Another “big” thing the commission is looking for during the 2011-12 season is “loads of publicity,” Mr. Muir said.

In 2009-10, “we generated 1.5 billion impressions,” which seemed to be an impressive number at the time. But during the 2010-11 season, that was eclipsed by a whopping 4 billion impressions. “We had an incredible year and just got all sorts of publicity” from cooking shows to jokes by Jay Leno. For 2011-12, “we want to build on that in our public-relations effort” and expect to go “even beyond that,” he said.

In the commission’s retail promotions for the coming year, “we are kicking off the year right away with a major tie-in with Fresh Gourmet,” said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail. “This will be the third year of that promotion. Shippers of Fresh Gourmet Crispy Onion Topping [will come] with a 55-cent-off Idaho potato coupon.” Last year, “coupon redemption was doubled” over the previous year. “We are getting great distribution of that product next to the potato section” in the produce aisle, he said. The program runs from October through December.

On the foodservice side, the commission is introducing a new Foodservice Tool Kit for potato buyers “with information about Idaho planting and harvesting” and other information of interest. “It really covers a lot of the questions that somebody who steps into that buying position often has about how potatoes are grown, how they should be stored, what is the timing” of planting and harvest, and why Idaho growers are “so good at growing potatoes” that are consistent year after year, said Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice.

The Tool Kit is available in booklet form or in PDF format.