“The Frites by Idaho campaign cost us around $50,000, but we estimate that the publicity it generated was worth approximately $50 million in value,” he said.
He noted that the fragrance sold out in a matter of hours and the campaign generated international publicity, with spots on The Stephen Colbert Show, Fox News Sunday, Access Hollywood, The Kelly Clarkson Show and the BBC.
Another off-beat but highly successful initiative was the release of Idaho Potato Malted Milkshake & Fries ice cream, in partnership with Van Leeuwen ice cream. The limited-edition malted milkshake-flavored ice cream with French fry bites was first launched in February at Van Leeuwen’s outlets in Los Angeles and New York.
Higham noted that Van Leeuwen focuses on finding interesting flavors to combine with their popular ice cream. The public relations exposure was undeniable, garnering a social media frenzy that caused the Idaho Milkshake to sell out online. In fact, he said Walmart will offer the flavor this fall at its 3,500 locations.
Another feather in the cap for IPC this year was the partnership it struck with the American Diabetes Association, which accepted Idaho potatoes into its Better Choices for Life program.
“We were the first fresh vegetable approved for the ADA’s Better Choices for Life program, which is great since those with diabetes can now consider potatoes as part of a healthy diet,” he said. “This is a huge win for not only Idaho potatoes, but the entire potato industry. Consumers with diabetes will now have the confidence to include Idaho potatoes in their diet.”
Aside from these new initiatives, Higham said the IPC would be reprising some of the tried-and-true programs from recent years.
The Big Idaho Potato Truck is continuing its tour of the U.S., he said. The truck and the Tater Team have become fan favorites and have visited 49 U.S. states to date, and Higham said there is an effort to include Hawaii this year.
“We’re still working on the details [of getting the giant fiberglass potato to Hawaii], but it’s not as expensive as you might think,” he said.
He also said the Idaho Potato Bowl is returning again this year and is scheduled on a Saturday, for the first time, on Dec. 23.
“It’s basically a three-hour commercial for Idaho potatoes, and we are very pleased with the timing of the Idaho Potato Bowl this year,” he said. “It will be on a Saturday just before Christmas, so it will really be more of a holiday bowl this year compared to past years when it was held mid-week and earlier in the month.”
The IPC will also air a new national television spot that will make its debut in the fall. The new spot replaces the current one that featured Idaho potato grower Mark Combs and his bloodhound on a constant search of the Big Idaho Potato Truck.
“That was a very successful campaign for us and Mark did a great job, but I felt it was time to move in a new direction and target a younger demographic,” said Higham, who showed a teaser of the new commercial, which drew cheers from the audience.
Higham said the IPC also would begin working with television personality Mario Lopez to promote Potato Lovers Month this February via a five-minute spot to air on WGN in Chicago, Food Network, GO and Max streaming platforms.
“Mario likes us and we like him, and we’ll be hoping to bring him to the IFPA convention in Anaheim, so stay tuned on that,” said Higham.
Higham added that the IPC is taking a more targeted approach to reach consumers on their preferred media platforms.
“We are still targeting adults 25 to 54, which tend to be lighter potato buyers,” he said. “We are seeing more of a shift to streaming platforms from cable TV, and we’ll continue to monitor that and adjust our plans as necessary.”
Digital platforms leading the way
For social media, he said data show the average engagement (views, likes, comments, shares and saves) for food and beverage brands is 1.6 percent, while IPC’s channels receive 8 percent engagement.
For its website, IPC drew 335,000 new users and more than 2 million total users in 2022-23, with more than three-quarters coming from a Google search.
“The challenge at this point is continuing to come up with new content,” he said.
Field teams recognized
Higham also recognized the IPC field teams for their work to increase the profile of Idaho potatoes in the retail, foodservice and international realms.
He said the foodservice team — headed by Alan Kahn and comprising Stanley Trout (Southeast), Armand Lobato (West) and Matt Brigotti (Northeast) — does a great job of partnering with foodservice operators and offering training about proper use of Idaho potatoes.
The retail team, led by Ross Johnson, who oversees Kent Beesley (West), Mike Krage (Northeast) and Mark Daniels (Southeast), employs a data-driven grassroots effort to show the value of carrying Idaho potatoes.
On the international front, under the direction of Johnson, Higham said Taiwan continues to be a key market in Asia, while Mexico offers expanded opportunities with the opening of the interior of the country to U.S. potato shipments.
“We don’t know what the expanded access in Mexico will mean because we haven’t been able to tap into that yet, but we feel it is a great opportunity,” he said. “In fact, we are planning to hold a Potato Lovers Month contest in Mexico.”
Finally, Higham recognized the work of longtime retail promotion director Kent Beesley, who announced that he will retire in February. IPC is currently searching for his replacement.
“Kent has been with us for 16 years and has done a tremendous job,” said Higham. “Those are some big shoes to fill and we will miss him.”