Potato groups keep trademark fight amicable
IPC: Logo will make customers think all spuds are from Idaho
By SEAN ELLIS
Two of the country's leading potato organizations are trying to work amicably through their differences over the use of a national potato trademark.
The Idaho Potato Commission recently passed a motion that asks the U.S. Potato Board to not allow its trademarked "Potatoes -- Goodness Unearthed" logo to be used at the retail level.
The USPB, the nation's potato marketing organization, believes the logo sends an important nutrition message about potatoes to consumers. The IPC, which represents growers in the country's top potato-producing state, thinks the logo will confuse consumers into believing all potatoes come from Idaho.
Representatives of both parties say the disagreement represents a difference of opinion on a single issue and isn't indicative of a rift between the two groups.
"We're not at war with the U.S. Potato Board," IPC President and CEO Frank Muir said. "We just have this single issue with the use of the 'Goodness Unearthed' trademark at the retail level and we have conveyed that concern."
When the logo was being created, Muir said, the IPC let it be known in very clear terms that it was opposed to the trademark being used at the retail level. Because some shippers are now asking the USPB for permission to do that, "We've had to formalize (that request)," he said.
Muir said Idaho growers are concerned that consumers will be confused into thinking all potatoes with the USPB logo come from Idaho, which has its own "Grown In Idaho" seal and provides the potato board with roughly 30 cents of every dollar it collects through assessments.
Muir noted that some states use the USPB logo as a brand "and it's not in the best interests of Idaho growers to spend money creating another state's brand."
He said consumers strongly affiliate Idaho with potatoes and notes the IPC has spent well over $200 million in TV advertising on the brand.
"All we're trying to do is make sure consumers are not misled into thinking they are buying Idaho potatoes when they are not," he said.
USPB President and CEO Tim O'Connor met with IPC officials in Boise June 14 and said the face-to-face talks between two sides were constructive.
"We're working with Idaho to try to find a solution and we will find one," he said, adding that any proposed solution will have to be approved by the USPB board during its July 13 summer meeting. "Our goal is to elevate the image of potatoes in consumers' minds, not to compete with Idaho."
Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission, said some growers in that state use that commission's potato logo while some don't and growers there aren't concerned about the USPB logo diluting their own.
He said he would prefer to "leave it up to the individual packing sheds whether they want to use the USPB trademark or not."
Oregon Potato Commission Executive Director Bill Brewer believes the USPB logo is beneficial to the industry. While he doesn't want it to be required, he also thinks shippers should be allowed to use it if they want.
The OPC has an ongoing program that helps offset the printing costs of growers who use the logo on their promotional items.
"We believe our shippers should have the ability to use it if they want to," he said.