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Essence of Idaho potatoes a fragrance hit

By John O’Connell

Intermountain Farm and Ranch

The hot potato in the fragrance world wasn't made by Chanel, Chloe or Guerlain, but it is French — sort of. 

Frites by Idaho packs the odor of a fresh order of french fries made, of course, from Idaho potatoes.

The name "Frites" is the French word for fries.

The sizzling scent was never intended to be a money maker. Travis Blacker, the Idaho Potato Commission's industry relations director, said his organization priced it at $1.89 per 1.7-ounce bottle to sell for the rough equivalent of an order of fries. 

The IPC produced a limited quantity of Frites by Idaho, making it as in demand as the last fry in the bottom of a bag. According to the IPC, it sold out before they had a chance to officially launch their promotion.

The IPC boasts that its scent was "formulated from essential oils and distilled Idaho potatoes to embody the irresistible essence of potatoes from Idaho."

The fine print on the IPC's website warns shipments may be delayed by four to six weeks due to high demand.

That's no surprise to the IPC's leaders, who are tasked with promoting the Idaho potato brand. In their market research, they found 90 percent of Americans surveyed are crazy about the smell of hot french fries. 

"It keeps the Idaho potato on the mind of the consumer," Blacker said. "Our job is to make sure when people think of potatoes, they automatically think of Idaho potatoes. I think this just helps with that."

Blacker said Frites by Idaho was released before Valentine’s Day, and within the state's spud industry, February doubles as Potato Lovers Month. 

"It's been funny to see how this (fragrance) has just taken off," Blacker said. 

IPC staff and officials with their advertising agencies came up with the idea during a brainstorming session last April. Staff members formulated several recipes, choosing three finalists, and the top one was selected.

All of the product development, production and bottling was done in-house. 

"It was like, 'OK, this is hilarious. Why not do this during Idaho Potato Lovers Month.’ That's when we want to stimulate demand, but also there's Valentine’s Day," said Jeweldean Hull, the IPC's administrative and social media director. "Timing is everything. Who would have thought? We're not perfume makers."

Hull said the group initially tested recipes with cooking oil to lend their product authenticity, but they soon determined greasy fries wouldn't go over.

Hull said their end result is slightly sweet but also distinctly potato — Idaho russet to be specific. 

"I feel like it was the best we could do in the inspiration of french fries," Hull said. "When you're driving in that drive-thru, you bet the minute you get that bag of fries and you have a burger or whatever, you're going to grab a french fry."

After giving several bottles away, the IPC listed 60 bottles for sale on their website. An additional batch of the product also sold out immediately.

Hull said there's been no determination about whether or not to ramp up production to try to meet the exceptional demand, but she noted National French Fry Day is July 13. 

"Literally, it's like family members helping us to put this together," Hull said. "This isn't like we called Chanel to help us."

Despite the limited inventory, Frites by Idaho has made an international splash. 

One caller from Switzerland assured the IPC that the essence of Idaho potatoes could hold the key to world peace, Hull said. 

"We're getting calls constantly from people looking for this perfume," Hull said. 

Sen. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, who also serves on the Idaho Potato Commission, said the idea of making a potato fragrance came up several times during discussions throughout the past half year.

"I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me!'" VanOrden said. 

VanOrden credits the IPC staff with devising great ideas and promotions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the fragrance, and with effectively getting Idaho potatoes featured on social media and recipe sites. 

VanOrden hasn't managed to score a bottle of Frites by Idaho for herself yet, and she said she's reserving judgment on the french fry fragrance until she smells it.

Then again, she acknowledges the fragrance has certainly made Idaho potatoes a hot topic lately, which is the point of the promotion, after all.

"That's the whole thing, and then (people) go, 'Wow, the potato industry is great, so I'm going to support them,'" VanOrden said.