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BOISE, ID — The Idaho Potato Commission’s popular Idaho Potato Lover’s Month retail display contest is in its 22nd year, and Jamie Bowen, marketing manager for the commission, expects to see more than 2,500 entries this year, topping the previous record set in 2011.

The commission has a new partner, a new premium and new point-of-sale materials for this year’s contest, according to Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail for the commission, who said that the annual February contest is IPC-PLM-retqil-displayOne of the winning entries from the 2012 Potato Lover’s Month retail display contest, built by Jose Martin at Sweetbay in Tampa, FL.“by far the biggest promotion we do at retail,” and is among the larger promotions of its kind for any commodity.

Every year since its inception, the Idaho Potato Lover’s Month contest has been “more successful than the previous year,” said Ms. Bowen. The number of participants has also grown every year except last year, when “it hung out” a little below the record. But “this year, I personally think it is going to be higher than that.”

The commission’s new partner for the promotion is Hormel Real Bacon Bits. For the last several years, the partner was Mrs. Dash. It was a good partnership, according to Mr. Pemsler, but he said that Hormel’s Real Bacon Bits is a perfect fit, particularly because so many people already put bacon bits on their baked potatoes.

Contest entrants are asked to build an attention-grabbing display using Idaho potatoes as the primary focus of the display, including some dehydrated product, as well as Hormel Bacon Bits. They must also incorporate point-of-sale materials supplied by the commission or created by their own marketing teams.

Only Idaho potatoes may be used in the display. “They can’t have potatoes from any other state,” Ms. Bowen said.

To qualify for entry, displays must be in place for at least one week during the period from Jan. 28 to March 1. Entries, including a photo of the display, can be submitted online or by mail and must be received by March 15.

“Everyone who enters the retail contest will get a premium,” which this year is a Swiss Army backpack, she said.

“We have gotten so many positive comments from customers telling our field guys, ‘We really like this,” Mr. Pemsler said. “We have had great premiums in the past,” such as last year’s iPod docking station, but this year’s premium is really generating excitement. The purpose of the premium is to motivate participation in the contest.

“Every year the challenge is coming up with something that a produce manager would say, ‘that’s cool’ but would probably not spend the money to buy for himself,” said Mr. Pemsler.

In addition, a total of about $34,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to five winners in each of three categories, which are based on the number of cash registers in the store.

Entering online, because of its simplicity, is becoming increasingly popular, Ms. Bowen said. Two years ago, about 30 percent of participants entered online, and 70 percent mailed in a photo along with the entry form on the back of the contest brochure. Last year, “it was about 50-50,” and this year she expects 70 percent will opt to enter online.

“It takes 30 seconds to fill out the form” online from the commission’s website, Mr. Pemsler said. Then all that is needed is to attach a digital photo and submit. With digital cameras being so ubiquitous these days, “we have made this so easy.”

Point-of-sale materials, including posters, danglers and inflatable Spuddy Buddies (the commission’s mascot), are just as easy to order online, Ms. Bowen added.

Produce managers who have saved Idaho potato point-of-sale materials from previous years can also incorporate those in the display if they choose.

Winners are judged in March and announced May 1.

“It takes us a whole week” to do the judging, Mr. Pemsler said. “We judge all 2,500 entries. We take the judging extremely seriously, and we look at every single picture for such things as creativity, perceived salability of the display, merchandising and customer draw.”

Concurrently, the commission runs a separate display contest specifically for military commissaries. Participation is exceptional, with some 80 percent of all commissaries in the country entering the contest.

“They do an incredible job” of creating the displays, Mr. Pemsler said. “The military is really an important component” of the promotion.