potato sales

Potato sales have increased as shoppers stock up on staples.

Grocery stores rewarded for participation in promotion

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

American Falls potato grower Jim Tiede said February used to be the year's slowest month for Idaho potato sales.

But Tiede, chairman of the Idaho Potato Commission, believes his organization has turned that around through its Potato Lover's Month Retail Display Contest.

The IPC makes a substantial investment to entice supermarkets throughout the country to erect displays showcasing Idaho potatoes and Mrs. Dash, its corporate partner for the past three years. On May 1, the IPC announced the contest's winning stores, which took home more than $150,000 in cash and prizes based on their creative displays. The total cost of the nation's largest produce display contest is about $500,000, said Seth Pemsler, the IPC's vice president of international retail.

"Through the holidays, sales would be very robust. As soon as the holidays would be over with, it would really fall on its ear for a while," Tiede said. "It's jacked back up the sales, and it's been a good thing for the whole industry."

Pemsler said the corporate partner contributes "a significant participation fee," which he couldn't disclose due to contract negotiations. For next year's contest, the IPC is working out an agreement with a new corporate partner to replace Mrs. Dash, which is restructuring in the wake of an acquisition.

The contest, in its 21st year, drew 2,300 entries from supermarket chains and independent grocers, with prize money ranging from $250 for fifth place to $1,500 for first place in each of three categories based on store size. An additional 100 stores received $100 honorable mention awards, and every store that entered took home a portable iPod docking station. The IPC also hosted a separate contest for military commissaries.

Pemsler said kits were donated to stores for making displays and included $20 in materials, such as balloons and signs. Contest participants had to feature fresh Idaho potatoes, Idaho dehydrated products and Mrs. Dash. Displays had to be set up in a store's produce section for at least a week between Jan. 30 and March 2. Many winning entries emphasized the Idaho potato's role in heart health.

Pemsler said February sales have been especially strong during the past eight years, when annual participation in the contest has averaged more than 2,000 stores.

"February is a dead month for produce. That's why this contest works so well for retailers. On the retail side they create this giant display and it attracts customers to the produce section," Pemsler said.

Aberdeen, Idaho, farmer Ritchey Toevs considers the promotion money well spent.

"You can't argue with the Idaho image," Toevs said. "I'm happy as a grower to pay for marketing to have the brand recognition we do."

Shippers have also noticed an increase in February business, according to Travis Blacker, president of the Idaho Grower Shippers Association.

"That's helped demand and helped the shipments," Blacker said. "Over the years we've turned Potato Lover's Month into a pretty good month of sales."

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