SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The Idaho potato industry has come a long way, in the right direction, over the last 15 years.
Speaking Aug. 30 at the 90th annual convention of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association, Idaho Potato Commission president and CEO Frank Muir contrasted the potato realities of 15 years ago and today.
In fast-moving remarks over 90 minutes, Muir reviewed the commission’s activities last year and previewed the upcoming season.
Starting his presentation with a PowerPoint slide with the number 412, Muir said the Idaho potato industry ship 412 pounds of potatoes every second, which translated to 2.2 million pounds shipped during his presentation.
Near the end of his remarks, Muir noted the changes in the Idaho and U.S. potato industries since he joined the commission in July 2003 from ConAgra Foods Inc.
After his presentation, Muir said the fortunes of the potato industry have improved in a number of ways.
“Fifteen years ago potato industry in general matters, and Idaho potatoes specifically, were in a declining state,” he said.
Revenue was declining and the atmosphere for potatoes was negative, he said.
“You had the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet, and other low-carb diets, all pounding fruits and vegetables,” he said. “All meats were going north and fruits and vegetable were going south, being led unfortunately by potatoes.”
In December 2003, the Idaho Potato Commission launched its “fight back” commercials reminding consumers of the nutritional value of potatoes. Fitness guru Denise Austin joined the commission efforts in 2005. Idaho potatoes in February 2011 were certified by the American Heart Association as heart healthy.
“We completely turned the tide of communication on potatoes being healthy,” he said.
A second big accomplishment in the 15-year period, Muir said, was making potatoes relevant and cool again in today’s culture.
“In today’s environment, it’s about the next kale — what about the old potato being the next kale?” he said.
The commission has done that with programs like the Big Idaho Potato Truck, which is back for its 8th tour next spring, along with two new commercials for the campaign. Since it was deployed, the truck has traveled more than 170,000 miles, visited 8,000 cities and towns, and been a part of 60 events which drew crowds of more than 100,000 at each event.
The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and even Spuddy Buddy at ESPN football games add to the cool factor for potatoes, he said.
“We’re part of pop culture and that’s where you want to be.”
Idaho potato farm gate revenue tops a billion, more than double 15 years ago. Participation in the commission’s Potato Lovers Month display contests has swelled to 5,000 retail stores, up from only 600 stores 15 year ago.
Muir told attendees of the conference that the future is bright.
“The question for you, the question for all of us, what does the next 15 years bring — what are you willing to commit to make sure we stay on this trajectory?” Muir asked.
Idaho is ready to handle the task, he said.
“Remember, there’s not too many food industries that can say every second that they are shipping 412 pounds of their product,” he said.