Potato Lover’s Month promotions in 2018 set a record with 5,200 stores competing ( Idaho Potato Commission )

Retail promotions efforts by the Idaho Potato Commission are off and running with the start of harvest, and the pace won’t let up much through the first of next year.

The retail promotion efforts begin at harvest with a partnership with Fresh Gourmet, a maker of crispy garlic chips and other toppings, said Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission.

The promotion with Fresh Gourmet starts in October and runs through the end of December.
The harvest promotion with Fresh Gourmet includes a dollar off coupon for Idaho fresh potatoes, said Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail for the Idaho Potato Commission.

Gourmet Fresh displays will be set up next to potato display areas, Pemsler said. 

“It’s a great program for the both of us,” Pemsler said.

Retailers will have a strong Idaho crop to promote, he said.

The Idaho potato crop is similar in volume to a year ago, Pemsler said, and quality is outstanding.

Sizing of the russet norkotah potatoes were bigger than average, Pemsler said, and russet burbanks showed more variable sizing.

The russet norkotah may have benefited from earlier planting and good heat during the growing season, he said. 

“The norkotah does appear to be a little bigger, especially the ones grown in the middle of the state,” he said. 

Retailers will have a little more size early in the season, he said, but promotion opportunities will be strong through the year

Shipments of Idaho potatoes through early October have been running ahead of a year ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

For the week ending Oct. 6, truck shipments of Idaho potatoes were 61.9 million pounds, up 9% from the same week a year ago. 

Season-to-date truck shipments of Idaho potatoes through Oct. 6 totaled 458.7 million pounds, up 14% compared with season to date shipments the same time last year.

Rail shipments were also up, with season-to-date movement of 28.5 million pounds as of Oct. 6 up 6% compared with year-ago levels.

Pemsler said fresh potato volume is expected to ramp up as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays approach.

While some have speculated that crop losses in North Carolina sweet potatoes could lead to bigger promotions for Idaho potatoes this year, Pemsler said in early October it was impossible to measure that dynamic yet.

Potato Lover’s Month

Muir noted that Potato Lover’s Month promotions in 2018 set a record with 5,200 stores competing.

“It’s our 27th consecutive year, and it’s the most successful produce display contest by far in the industry,” Muir said, noting that Hormel Chili was added as a partner for 2018.

The contest continues to expand, and Publix participated for the first time in 2018, he said, and Albertsons features their own internal contest as part of Potato Lover’s Month.

For 2019, all retail merchandisers who participate will receive an air fryer, Muir said.

The fryer establishes a tie-in with Grown in Idaho frozen products, which is a fast-expanding category, Muir said.

“We are trying to help the Grown in Idaho frozen also become part of (the contest),” he said, noting the commission requires not only that retailers promote fresh Idaho potatoes but also that retailers promote Idaho dehydrated products to qualify for the display contest.

“That’s how we leverage the entire industry together,” Muir said. 

Muir said the commission spends over $500,000 a year to help secure retail ads for Idaho potatoes.
Contest prizes are awarded to winners in three categories of store size (based on the number of registers), and the prizes for each category include cash awards of $1,500 for first place, $1,000 for second place, $750 for third place, $500 for fourth place and $250 for fifth place. 

Additionally, 100 honorable mention contestants are awarded $100 each.

Pemsler said Potato Lover’s Month has added an additional random contest to increase the chance that retailers can win.

“The feedback that we have gotten from retailers is, ‘You guys have gotten so big, we don’t think we can win,’” Pemsler said. 

In response to that sentiment, all Idaho Potato Commission Potato Lover’s Month Display Contest entries will be automatically entered into the sweepstakes portion of the promotion. 

The prize consists of roundtrip airfare for two for seven days in Maui, Hawaii, plus $2,500 in cash for transportation and meals.

While Potato Lover’s Month is February, the promotion runs from mid-January to mid-March.

“The reality is we got so big that we couldn’t meet demand (for promotion),” he said.

When 5,000 stores are ordering display volume at the same time for February promotions, that created a crunch for shippers.

Now with the promotion period extended to eight weeks, the logistics work much better, Pemsler said.

“That’s worked well for the shippers and they’re much better able to plan how they’re going to meet the expanded volumes of all the customers who participate in Potato Lover’s Month,” he said.

The Idaho Potato Commission representatives tell retailers not to over-advertise specialty potatoes, Pemsler said.

If bags represent 60% of retail volume, for example, but only receive 25% of the advertising support, that is likely a missed opportunity, he said.

“There is a market for specialty potatoes and that’s very worthwhile,” he said. 

But shelf allocation can run heavy to specialty potatoes when their sales would indicate russets, golds and reds need more space.

“What we’re basically saying is, you need to allocate your shelf according to what your sales are,” he said. 

“So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to help them right-size the category and then right-size from a merchandising standpoint, and then right-size from an advertising standpoint,” he said.