(Jan. 9) More than 2,000 produce departments around the nation are expected to put up Idaho potato displays in the next six weeks in preparation for the Idaho Potato Commission’s 17th annual Potato Lover’s Month Retail Display Contest.

The promotion starts Jan. 28, just in time for what is typically a slow month for the produce section.

“It’s not just about potatoes, it’s about all produce,” said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail merchandising for the Eagle, Idaho-based commission. “The displays attract customers who may not have walked into the produce section at all.”

The number of contestants who enter the contest has tripled since Pemsler joined the commission four years ago. The contest’s biggest year was 2006, with 2,700 entries.

The commission, in partnership with Kraft Foods Inc., offers incentives to managers to get their stores involved. In 2008, participants will be awarded more than $150,000 in prizes, $38,000 of which will be cash prizes.

In order to be involved, each store must set up a display that remains in place for at least one week between Jan. 28 and Feb. 29. The display must feature fresh Idaho potatoes with labels that show the Idaho name and the Grown in Idaho seal, a dehydrated potato product that also shows the Idaho label, Kraft Cheez Whiz and Oscar Meyer Real Bacon Bits or Ready to Serve Bacon. The display cannot include any potato products from other states.

Stores can also be involved in the Ad Contest Overlay Program by submitting an advertisement promoting Potato Lover’s Month, Idaho potatoes, Kraft Cheez Whiz and Oscar Meyer bacon products. Stores must send in a copy of the circular in which the ad ran to the Idaho Potato Commission.

Participating stores can order point-of-sale materials at www.idahopotato.com or www.kraftfoods.com. While stores are not limited to these materials, they are required to use them to eliminate the possibility of entering the same display photos multiple years. Stores will also be provided with recipe ideas to provide to shoppers.

Each store must submit at least one photo of the display and a display entry form to the Idaho Potato Commission by March 31. Stores are not required to submit any information about the success of their displays. Entries can be mailed or submitted at www.idahopotato.com.

After all of the entries are received, a committee, made up of the four members of the commission’s retail group and representatives from Kraft, will separate the entries into three categories: small, normal and mega stores, based on number of cash registers. The committee judges entries based on creativity and shopability among other things.

In each of the three categories, there will be first- through fifth-place winners. First place winners receive $1,250, with other prizes of $1,000, $750, $500 and $250.

In addition, $100 will be awarded to 100 honorable mention winners and every entrant will receive a Swiss Army watch valued at $115.

Category managers from each of the 15 winning stores will receive monetary awards matching the ones given to their stores.

First through fifth prizes will be awarded to winners the ad contest, and 25 will be named honorable mention and will receive $100.

“Around this time of year, people in the produce section can get a little bored, so this lets them have some fun,” Pemsler said.

Details on the contest and rules are available at www.idahopotato.com.