Courtesy Idaho Potato Commission
KETCHUM, Idaho — The Idaho Potato Commission plans to replace the 6-ton replica Russet Burbank hauled on its Great Big Idaho Potato Truck with a new model that’s lighter, leaner and glows in the dark.
IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said the new spud will be 2 feet narrower, enabling the commission to operate the truck without wide-load restrictions, and special lighting beneath its translucent fiberglass facade will make it visible at night.
Muir explained wide loads can’t be driven at night, and having a glowing spud should come in handy now that the truck will eligible to drive in nighttime parades.
“The potato will look like it magically is glowing, and people will absolutely love it,” Muir said, while announcing the plans during the Idaho Grower Shippers Association’s 89th Annual Convention last month.
Muir said the new spud will appear almost identical to the current potato and will remain 27 feet long.
IPC intended for the spud to last a single year when it unveiled the truck in 2011 to celebrate its 75th anniversary. However, the organization opted to keep the truck rolling based on the promotion’s popularity. The truck has now logged 148,000 miles, covering 7,200 U.S. cities, during its six years of touring and promoting the Idaho brand. IPC’s Tater Team also supports local charities during the treks tours — most recently, a contribution to the American Red Cross to benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey during its stop at the IGSA meeting.
Each year, IPC has had to resurface and repaint the potato to repair cracks. Muir is also concerned that the boards beneath the facade may no longer be sound, potentially posing a risk to team members who ride on top of the tuber during parades.
Muir believes the project demonstrates IPC’s commitment to operating the truck “until its wheels fall off.”
He anticipates construction will cost “a couple hundred thousand dollars.” It will be built by Chris and Sharolyn Schofield of Weiser, who also built the spud currently on the potato truck and both of the giant potatoes that have been used in the annual New Year’s Eve potato drop in Boise. The latest potato-drop spud was equipped with lights to make it glow, and will provide a prototype for the potato truck upgrade.
Since the truck launched, IPC has featured it in a series of commercials starring “actual potato farmer” Mark Coombs and his “spud hound,” who pursue the “missing” truck throughout the country but never manage to catch up with it. IPC debuted the latest commercial in the series at the IGSA convention. Its first broadcast will be during the IPC-sponsored football game between Boise State University and Virginia. The commercial will continue airing on cable television, and IPC has started a streaming TV contract with Hulu. Muir said Hulu is a good fit because it’s popular among younger consumers, who represent an IPC target audience, commercials can’t be skipped and the viewing audience is large.
In other marketing news, IPC recently received the results of a study by the firm Julius Jones concluding its $450,000 investment in sponsoring a college Bowl game, hosted at BSU, generates exposure for Idaho potatoes valued at nearly $13.5 million. The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl is now owned by the ESPN network. This season, Muir said IPC will contract with a firm that works with agents of National Football League players to have Famous Idaho Potato Bowl alums promote it in their Tweets.