EAGLE, Idaho — Never fear, they’re here.

The Idaho Potato Commission is highlighting its retail field team — nicknamed Field Force — in a series of superhero comic book-style ads running during the 2010-11 marketing season.

The story board for one ad pictures the well-muscled field men — Kent Beesley, Ken Tubman, Bill Savilonis and Larry Whiteside — in caped suits, opening with the caption: “Men, there’s trouble in produceland! Category managers everywhere need our help to become more profitable!”

Subsequent frames spell out the marketing tools, category analysis and market sales data the Field Force team will deliver to retailers.

Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail and international for the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission, said the light-hearted ads feature such taglines as “Super potato sales help has arrived” and comic depictions of each of the four field men in various retail settings lifted from real-life scenarios.

Pemsler said the ads acknowledge how promotion efforts are aided by the fact that the field team has the ability to present marketing programs to every buyer and decision maker in all markets.

“(The field team) reminds, reinforces, encourages and educates,” he said.

Retailers are doing a double take when they see the ads featuring the field team, said Ken Tubman, retail promotion director for the Northeast region.

Tubman said he believes the 2010-11 season will be a great one for retailers, with good quality and an ample supply of needed sizes.

“I think it is going to be a good year,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”

Acreage in the state is off about 8%, but Tubman said the stock size will be tending toward the smaller sizes, which are ideal for retail.

On the other hand, he said foodservice operators may find preferred larger-count carton potatoes harder to find this season.

The Idaho Potato Commission will offer two four-month promotional periods for retailers, with the first starting Oct. 1 and running through the end of January, Tubman said.

Meanwhile, February is Potato Lovers Month and will feature its own promotion plan.

Retail promotions will begin again from the start of March through May, he said.

No promotions are planned after May, since the level of potato stocks on hand this isn’t known, he said.
“You just want to make it through to the next season,” Tubman said.

Pemsler said the commission doesn’t reveal how much money it offers to retailers in exchange for promotions.

“We offer everyone a fair amount of money based on their size,” he said. “We’ll pay X per ad for up to six ads during the four month period,” he said. Retailers are paid more for an ‘A’ ad, placed on the front page of a food ad, than they are for ‘B’ ads, inside the ad circular.

Communications key

A big task for the retail field team is communication, Pemsler said.

“We try to be as accurate as possible,” he said. Pemsler agreed that sizes should be favorable for retailers in 2010-11, especially since 80% of potatoes sold at retailers are sold in bags.

Pemsler said improved pricing levels compared with a year ago should help both growers and retailers achieve better returns.

“If a retailer is not making money, he is not going to promote you or feature you,” Pemsler said.

Many retailers carry Idaho potatoes year-round, with other retailers that carry Idaho for perhaps nine to 10 months.

Overall, he speculated Idaho potatoes are carried in 85% to 90% of U.S. retail stores.

Pemsler said the commission is always working on expanding distribution in markets or adding retailers where Idaho is under-represented. That includes some regions and distribution centers for Bentonville, Ark., based Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Pemsler said that Idaho potatoes give other food products a halo effect, creating cross-promotion opportunities.
One such holiday promotion, slated for Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, is joint promotion effort with Fresh Gourmet Crispy Onions for a 55-cent coupon good on any bag of Idaho potatoes. The commission recommends retailers put a display promoting the tie-in near the potato section for maximum effect.