By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
FORT HALL – On average, 412 pounds of Idaho potatoes are sold every second of every day of the year.
“It is a very impressive number,” Idaho Potato Commission CEO Frank Muir told several hundred potato growers and industry members Nov. 14 during the IPC’s annual Big Idaho Potato Harvest Meeting.
“There are not too many produce organizations that can claim 412 pounds of their (commodity) are sold every second,” he said.
Idaho potato farmers grow about 13 billion pounds of spuds every year and selling that many potatoes doesn’t happen by accident. Muir pointed to the commission’s many promotional, foodservice, retail and other programs as playing an instrumental role in helping achieve that feat.
The commission has an annual budget of about $15 million, which is financed by an assessment paid by the state’s potato industry.
A big chunk of that budget, about 35 percent, is used to promote and market Idaho potatoes.
About 13 percent of the budget is used for retail programs, 11 percent for foodservice programs, 10 percent goes toward research and education, 4 percent goes toward international marketing programs and 25 percent is for personnel and brick and mortar costs.
IPC Chairman Randy Hardy, a spud farmer from Oakley, told harvest meeting attendees that the commission’s many advertising and promotional activities are necessary to keep Idaho potatoes at the forefront of consumers’ minds.
He said Idaho potatoes enjoy a brand preference rating of above 90 percent, which means 90 percent of consumers prefer Idaho spuds over any other type. That’s an extremely high brand preference rating compared to other ag commodities, he said.
“We need to continually put the Idaho name out in front of people and then back it up with a quality product and that’s what (the commission’s) purpose is,” Hardy said. “I think these promotions we are involved in are essential in keeping our place at No. 1.”
As a result of the commission’s brand marketing and promotional efforts, Idaho potatoes have become part of American culture, Muir said, and he presented several examples.
In 2018, Idaho potatoes were the answer to questions on several national TV game shows, including Jeopardy, and the annual Idaho New Year’s Eve potato drop in downtown Boise receives extensive national and international coverage.
Idaho potatoes were featured on many TV shows, including the Travel Channel, Man vs. Food and even the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
In addition, the Blackfoot Potato Museum is the No. 1 tourist destination in Idaho, and two million viewers a year are basically treated to a three-hour Idaho potato informercial during the annual Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which is sponsored by the commission and broadcast on ESPN.
The IPC’s website now attracts more than one million visits per year.
“That gives you a little bit of a glimpse of the things we did this last year with Idaho potatoes,” Muir said.
In addition, the Big Idaho Potato Truck tour continues to garner near-constant local and national media coverage, he said.
American Idol this year asked the commission for permission to include the giant potato in its TV show.
“You know you are part of American pop culture when American Idol calls you and asks you to be part of their show,” Muir said.
He said Idaho potatoes have come a long way since 2003, when the national low-carb diet fad was in full swing and many of the diets restricted potato consumption.
Idaho potatoes’ brand image had become generic and was declining and Idaho was losing market share to other states, Muir said.
Idaho’s then-governor opted to place the peregrine falcon rather than a potato on the Idaho state quarter and a bill was introduced in the legislature to eliminate the words, “Famous Idaho Potatoes,” from the state’s license plates. It was defeated.
Total farm-gate revenue for potatoes in the state was $536 million in 2003, down 20 percent from the prior year, and the five-year average for farm-gate revenue for spuds in Idaho was $642 million, down from the prior five-year average, Muir said.
“The trend was not going in a good direction,” he said.
Since that time, the IPC has pushed back directly against the low-carb diets’ restriction on potato consumption and began advertising nationally for the first time, Muir said.
As part of its fight-back campaign, the IPC hired fitness guru Denise Austin, who promoted the nutritional benefit of Idaho potatoes for 10 years, and Idaho potatoes has gained the American Heart Association’s healthy heart checkmark.
In 2017, farm-gate revenue for potatoes in Idaho was $975 million, up 1 percent from 2016, and the five-year average was $966 million, up 4 percent from the previous five-year average.
This year on his national TV show, Dr. Oz, addressing some low-carb diets’ restrictions on eating spuds, said, “I want you all eating potatoes again. You can enjoy potatoes and lose weight.”
Looking at the 2018 Idaho potato crop, Muir said demand is strong and 4 percent ahead of last year’s pace.
Quality was outstanding this year and world supply has been reduced due to drought and other factors while overall global demand for frozen and dehydrated potato products continues to grow, he said.
“Market conditions couldn’t be any stronger for Idaho right now for growers to get the best returns they’ve had in many, many years,” he said.
During the meeting, Potatoes USA CEO Blair Richardson said overall demand for potatoes is increasing in the United States and globally.
A recent U.S. consumer survey found that potatoes was the No. 1 food people had eaten in the past 24 hours, he said.
“We think the future for potatoes is really strong right now,” Richardson said.