Frank Muir shows attendees the photo book "Potato Country: Celebrating 75 Years of the Idaho Potato Commission" by photographer David R. Stoecklein.
Frank Muir shows attendees the photo book "Potato Country: Celebrating 75 Years of the Idaho Potato Commission" by photographer David R. Stoecklein.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The 2011-12 marketing theme for the Idaho Potato Commission is one little word: BIG.

Frank Muir, commission president and chief executive officer, announced the “big” news at the commission’s annual business meeting Sept. 1 at the Idaho Grower Shipper Association’s 83rd annual convention in Sun Valley, Idaho.

For the commission’s 75th anniversary, it turned to artwork from a vintage postcard. Initially commission members considered sending one of the postcards to every household in America. Then they started thinking big, Muir said.

“Everyone’s seen that postcard with a flatbed semi hauling a giant potato,” Muir told a record turnout of attendees. “Well, we’re building that potato and it’s going on a coast-to-coast tour.”

Coming soon: One giant Idaho potatoThe 75th Anniversary Famous Idaho Potatoes Tour features what the commission is billing as the world’s biggest potato. The steel-framed potato is under construction now and will start its tour Dec. 17 at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Boise State University’s Bronco Stadium.

Muir said the truck will stop at the U.S. Department of Agriculture offices in Washington D.C. where commission staff will address proposed school nutrition requirements that limit starchy vegetables to one serving a week.

The commission’s anniversary marketing campaign continues to feature popular fitness guru Denise Austin as a celebrity spokeswoman in television commercials. A new commercial featuring Austin is scheduled to debut nationally Sept. 3 on ESPN during the Boise State-Georgia football game.

Austin will remind viewers that Idaho potatoes have earned the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Mark, signifying that they are high in nutrition and low in cholesterol and fat.

Another aspect of the commission’s 2011-12 marketing campaign will be a $100,000 donation to the Meals on Wheels program, which serves one million meals a day to elderly and housebound people.

Coming soon: One giant Idaho potato“We’re gonna show people the biggest meal on wheels with our potato,” Muir said. “And we’re gonna show them that Idaho potatoes don’t forget anyone.”

Logos for the Meals on Wheels program, the commission’s 75th anniversary and the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Mark will be on the big potato.

The commission is also increasing marketing efforts in the technology and Internet arenas. The big potato will have a QR code on the back so people along the route can scan it with their smartphones to find out where its next stop will be. Increased use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter are also included in the marketing plan.

“We’ve got 9,000 friends on Facebook and 1,900 followers on Twitter,” Muir said. “We’re becoming like the Kardashians — telling everyone our every move.”

The blog-o-sphere is also on the commission’s radar screen. Muir said 670 bloggers follow the Idaho Potato Commission.

New materials for retailers are part of the campaign and Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail, said new data tools will help retailers better understand how they can make money by selling more Idaho potatoes. He said 86% of retailers carry Idaho potatoes in bags and bulk displays.

Coming soon: One giant Idaho potatoPotato Lovers Month will again be a big part of the commission’s efforts. Larry Whiteside, retail promotion director, has been a big part of that effort and was recognized for growing the number of promotions in his Midwest territory by 50% this past year. Whiteside, 66, announced he will retire this fall.

For the foodservice industry, the IPC is going big with celebrity chefs, as well as working with culinary schools to help educate new chefs about the versatility of potatoes.

Commission vice president of foodservice Don Odiorne said a new foodservice tool kit for potato buyers will provide answers about how potatoes should be stored and tips on buying.