New Idaho Potato Commission chief taking thoughtful approach
SUN VALLEY, ID — Jamey Higham brings a wealth of potato knowledge and management experience to his role as president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission. In his first year at the helm of the IPC, Higham has vowed to take a thoughtful approach to the IPC’s operations and increase communication with its members.
Higham, who joined the IPC in January, detailed his vision for the IPC at the industry breakfast Aug. 25 during the 94th annual Idaho Grower Shipper Association convention, here.
The new chairman of the IPC, Bryan Wada of Wada Farms, introduced Higham at the breakfast and noted that since Higham arrived, expenses have been cut by 9 percent and overhead has been reduced by 14 percent.
Higham said his goal is to streamline operations at the commission while still delivering value to the organization’s members.
“I’ve been evaluating everything here at the Idaho Potato Commission, and we will keep the things that are working well and pivot away from the things that are not,” he said. “We’re trying to reconnect with the growers. I feel like there has been a disconnect on that [in recent years].”
Higham said that since joining, he has traveled throughout Idaho on an “airing of grievances tour,” meeting with growers to learn about their needs and expectations.
“I found that there is overwhelming support for the IPC,” he said, “and I wanted to let everyone know that my door is always open, and I am open to hearing about new ideas. I might not agree with everything, but I am always willing to listen. I want the IPC to be a business helper, not a business blocker.”
The IPC is known in the industry for its innovative marketing approach, and it has implemented some of the more high-profile and memorable industry campaigns, with the Big Idaho Potato Truck Tour and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl sponsorship leading the way. Higham said those will continue under his leadership, while he intends to expand and implement other initiatives.
“The Big Idaho Potato Truck Tour is now in its 10th year, and I am a big fan of the truck,” he said. “I think it will continue to evolve even more as we move forward.”
As for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which this year will be held on Dec. 20, he said, “I was a skeptic at first, but I am now a fan. It’s fun and brings a lot of exposure to our brand.”
He also singled out Potato Lover’s Month as an extremely effective campaign that will continue under his purview. In fact, Higham, who was president and CEO of Farm Fresh Direct of America in Monte Vista, CO, before joining IPC, mentioned that other states dread PLM since it commands so much attention by retailers, who focus on Idaho potatoes during the contest period.
With a nod toward continued creativity, Higham spoke about the tongue-in-cheek Valentine’s Day promotion the IPC ran this year with the launch of a potato-inspired fragrance called Frites by Idaho. The fragrance, created using distilled Idaho potatoes and essential oils, was a limited release item available on the IPC website. The launch was picked up by major media outlets, including a segment on the Kelly Clarkson Show, where guest host Jay Leno had an entertaining exchange with Higham about the fragrance.
About the idea behind Frites by Idaho, Higham said that IPC research indicated that 90 percent of people surveyed said they love the smell of French fries.
“Frites by Idaho was a smashing success, and when all is said and done, we expect over 600 million impressions, including 85.4 million on Twitter,” he said.
Higham also detailed other high points of the 2021-22 marketing campaign, including mentions and features on Barstool Sports, Tik Tok, The Farm Babe, A Cook Named Matt, Food Paradise, Lidia’s Kitchen, Rachel Ray with Chef Poppy, and even game shows such as America Says and The Price is Right.
He also spoke about the IPC website, which offers a plethora of information about Idaho potatoes.
“With everything we do, we try to drive traffic to our site,” said Higham. “We have a great site, with over 1,800 recipes and over 1.3 million visitors last year. I want that number to increase to 10 million visitors in the next five years.”
Overall, Higham said the IPC’s media strategy would look to drive incremental sales with a focus on light and medium potato buyers.
“The media world is changing and so we have developed an omni-channel approach,” he said, adding that a focus this year would be utilizing streaming services like Hulu and Netfix to promote the Idaho brand.
Higham said that both the retail and foodservice teams have been hard at work in their respective arenas, helping to spread the word about Idaho potatoes.
On the retail side, he said, “We have been very active, with 127 category reviews to analyze data and gain buyers.”
He noted that consumers have already started shifting their purchasing decisions, and the Idaho Potato Commission’s reviews help retailers receive a unique benefit no other state can offer. The reviews help category managers stay in front of changes that are happening in the potato category.
He also said trade shows, which are seeing record attendance this year following the two-year pandemic, offer an outstanding opportunity to promote the Idaho brand and will continue to be a main part of the IPC strategy.
On the foodservice side, Higham said, “It has been a tough year for obvious reasons,” but he predicted better days are ahead and recognized Alan Kahn, vice president of foodservice at IPC, for his leadership on that front.
A major challenge IPC has confronted on both the retail and foodservice fronts has been the turnover in buyers, which has caused some disruption in the continuity of relationships, according to Higham.
The IPC is also working through some internal changes, according to Higham.
“We lost a lot of institutional knowledge with the retirement of Pat Kole in June as vice president of legal and government affairs, but we have brought on Sam Eaton to replace him,” he said. “We recruited Sam from the governor’s office, and we are very lucky to have him.”
Higham also recognized Seth Pemsler, who will be retiring as vice president of retail and international effective Oct. 1.
“Seth has been with the IPC for 18 years and we thank him very much for his service to the industry,” said Higham. “Ross Johnson will assume the role of vice president of retail and international as of Oct. 1.”
Higham also announced the promotion of Travis Blacker to vice president of research and industry relations, also effective Oct. 1.
Top photo: Idaho Potato Commission President and CEO Jamey Higham spoke about his goals and vision for the IPC during the Aug. 25 industry breakfast during the 94th annual IGSA convention in Sun Valley, ID.