By JOHN O'CONNELL
On its second national tour, the Great Big Idaho Potato Truck will travel 23,000 miles through 28 states, participating in events such as the Kentucky Derby Festival parade and pro football's Hall of Fame game.
The Idaho Potato Commission built the 6-ton Idaho Russet Burbank on a flatbed to celebrate its 75th anniversary.
During a March 27 ceremony, Gov. Butch Otter performed the ceremonial starting of the engine for a tour that will span from April 1 through late September.
The truck's first trek generated roughly 450 million media impressions -- the combined audience sizes of media outlets that carried the story. The IPC's goal for the second trip is to increase media impressions by 50 percent.
Rather than spending a few hours at each stop, the truck will park longer to better capitalize on word-of-mouth visits. Muir said IPC will also prioritize evening events with retailers who promise to draw a crowd through grand opening celebrations, flier distributions and other promotions.
Muir said TV stations covered the giant spud in all 150 cities it visited last year. Furthermore, onlookers with cell phone cameras photographed the truck, sending text images to friends.
"Even our governor made the comment wherever he travels, the governor in every single state asks about the truck and knows the truck has been in his state," Muir said.
This year's tour will be 6,500 miles longer than the first due to the logistics of attending large events scheduled in different regions. It passes through three new states -- Maine, Louisiana and South Dakota. Despite the extra mileage, Muir said the program's $700,000-$800,000 budget is down from $1 million last year, which included the cost of building the giant spud.
Once again, the truck is labeled with the American Heart Association's check mark, indicating Idaho potatoes are a heart-healthy food, and the IPC is partnering with Meals on Wheels. IPC will present a $100,000 check to the organization, which provides visits and nutritious meals to homebound seniors.
IPC will also release another national commercial, to debut during Boise State University's opening football game. It will continue airing on cable TV from September through February. Last year's commercial featured Caldwell potato farmer Mark Coombs seeking the whereabouts of the "missing" potato truck.
"It's probably been the most popular commercial with consumers we've had," Muir said. "Some have said it's the best commercial they've ever seen."
Two new ambassadors -- Tyler Pagel and Kristie Wolfe -- will staff the truck. Paul Humbracht will return as the driver. He's frequently been asked, "Is the potato real?"
"I usually say, 'Go ahead and take a bite and see if it's real,'" Humbracht said.
Muir said it's tough to quantify how many potatoes have been sold due to the promotion, but he considers it noteworthy that Idaho spud sales spike at every grocery store the truck visits and there's been no shortage of requests from retailers hoping to land a stop on the next tour.