Heart-check mark slowly gains with potato growers
Consumers respond to heart health claims, survey says
By JOHN O'CONNELL
An official with the American Heart Association believes Idaho potato shippers aren't fully tapping the right to use his organization's iconic heart check mark.
For a registration fee of $5,000 per variety, the Idaho Potato Commission renewed a 12-month contract in November entitling members to use the logo on packaging of four varieties -- Russets, fingerlings, reds and yellows. Individual fresh packing operations must still submit an application and a discounted fee of $1,000 per variety for rights to the heart-check mark.
"I wouldn't say a large number (of facilities have registered)," said Dennis Milne, director of business relations with the AHA's Department of Nutrition and Obesity Strategies. "They're slowly coming in over time."
The IPC was the first, and only, potato organization to gain approval of a heart health claim. However, Milne has been contacted by other state potato commissions interested in applying.
"It is a product that can fit into an overall healthy diet pattern," Milne said.
Wada Farms in Bingham County was among the first fresh packing facilities to submit an application to use the logo. They're certified for Russets, reds and golds.
"We have applied the AHA heart-check mark to some different bag designs we currently ship," said Chris Wada, sales and marketing manager. "We probably haven't leveraged it as much as we could have to date, but going forward it will definitely be part of our bags as plate changes and new designs are made."
Wada believes consumer research confirms the value of the check mark, and adding it to a bag can only help.
IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said his organization includes the check mark in all public relations efforts, including its national commercials with fitness expert Denise Austin, and has the symbol on both sides of the Great Big Idaho Potato Truck, which travels the nation promoting the brand. He emphasized all shippers that supply Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are registered to use the symbol.
"Shippers are beginning to embrace it and put it on their package. Would we like it to have been faster? Absolutely, but we see this as a long-term program," Muir said.
Milne said about 920 brands and commodities from 110 different companies have been approved through the program. Surveys by Good Housekeeping, Health Focus International and others show the heart-check mark is among the most trusted and well known symbols, Milne said.
The AHA hosted a shopping study in 2009 and 2010 demonstrating that adding the heart check mark by the price tags of approved products resulted in an average 5 percent sales lift. The lift was considerably greater for fruits and vegetables, ranging from roughly 16 percent to 36 percent, depending on the class of shopper. Milne said the study will be repeated this year.
Milne considers the Idaho potato to be an important addition to the program because the average American eats 1.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day, compared with at least 4.5 cups necessary for a healthy diet, according to the organization Produce for Better Health.
Visit www.heartcheckmark.org/certify for more information, or call April Whitfield at 214-706-1879 to apply to use the heart-check mark on Idaho potato packaging.