DENVER — The U.S. Potato Board may not sell any potatoes, but it sure promotes the heck out of ‘em.

The board’s domestic marketing and international marketing programs receive the bulk of its budget each year by far.

At its annual meeting, the board approved its fiscal year 2011 budget, which gives domestic marketing almost $5.5 million and international marketing almost $3.7 million, not counting the extra $6.1 million the international programs gets through Foreign Agricultural Services funding.

Potato board pushes potatoes around the globe

Ashley Bentley

Cheryl Koompin, partner in Idaho-based Koompin Farms, and Lon Baley of Baley-Trottman Farms, Malin, Ore., were co-chairs of the international marketing committee in 2009. The committee members dressed up as newspaper salespeople and passed out USPB International Times in their presentation on the committee's achievements over the year.

In the past year, those funds have gone to support a number of campaigns, events, promotions and tours, one of which was a two-day seminar for chefs on potato innovation.

The seminar, held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., gave 11 professional chefs the opportunity to learn about and experiment with potatoes used in different ways, with a focus on Mediterranean and Latin flavors, said Shelley Roth, account manager at Ketchum Communications, which handles the event for the board.

The chefs in attendance represented $72 billion in national restaurant sales, Roth said.

“We found out that professional chefs were not thinking about potatoes,” Roth said. “With the better for you trend, we realized healthy potato options needed to be available.”

In addition to its contacts with chefs at the event, the board made recipes created at the culinary institute available online, as well as made some videos from the event. Videos on www.prochef.com had already been viewed for more than 800 hours as of March 10, Roth said.

During the event, chefs also listened to lectures on nutrition, saw demonstrations and heard from a grower. Then, they broke into teams and created their own potato-inspired dishes.

Roth said the group is seeing the fruits of its labors, as new potato items had been added to the menus of about half the chefs who attended the events. In the top 350 chains altogether, between the first and fourth quarters of 2009, the board tracked a 7% increase in potato menu items.

“It’s indicative of what’s happening in the industry,” Roth said. “French fries still top the list of side dishes, but we’re seeing more people include potatoes in more ways.”

In other domestic marketing activities, the group plans to build on its current campaign to its “Linda” target market with a new recipe bank on www.allrecipes.com starting in April. The recipe link, called “Quick and Healthy” will pull traffic to www.potatogoodness.com, the board’s site with the slogan “Potatoes … Goodness Unearthed.”

Since its launch of a Facebook page this past year, the group has accumulated more than 5,000 fans, and hopes to continue to build on that.

“This year we begin folding in nutrition messages with lifestyle suggestions,” said Meredith Myers, public relations manager for the board. “We’re doing that through our Nutrition on a Budget campaign.”

This year the board also started working with the Society for Nutrition Educators, which supports nutrition education initiatives. In addition, the group doubled the size of its booth at the American Dietetics Association show, and served more than 800 potatoes at the show.

In the international sector, the board continued to sponsor trade missions and events at trade shows and conventions across the globe, as well as continued to push for policy change that would open up the entire country of Mexico to fresh U.S. potatoes.

“We must get beyond that level, we must get access to the rest of that country,” said John Toaspern, vice president of international marketing for the board. “There is some movement, but should we plant a few extra acres yet? No.”

U.S. fresh potato exports are up, but the numbers include fresh chipping potatoes, Toaspern said.

The board hosted culinary events throughout the year, throughout the globe, including a Wine and Dine Challenge in Singapore.

In the last year, the board had pulled its funding for promotions in Taiwan because of a perceived lack of value, but Toaspern said in the fiscal year 2011 plan, the group plans to reintroducing its table stock promotions there.