SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The Idaho potato industry just might lead the fresh produce industry out of recession in 2010, if Idaho potato officials' optimism Sept. 3 at the Idaho Grower Shippers Association annual convention is warranted.

With already encouraging 2009 statistics to rely upon, along with what grower-shippers at the conference called well-conceived marketing plans to add market share to younger consumers, the bounce back might happen even sooner.

The Idaho Potato Commission also expects to turn 2008-09's weak spot, foodservice sales, into one of its biggest strengths heading into 2010.

"We look to restaurant sales leading us out of this slow economy, and I think that's going to happen very soon," said Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice for the commission.

"We really do need to remain positive, and I agree with Don that the restaurant industry will rebound," said Mark Coombs, grower-operator for D.C. Land, northwest of Caldwell. "With marketing strategies and lots of advertising, we can bring this economy into a more positive realm, and I think our big Internet push is going to have some compounding effects. It is yet to be proven, but I think it's a smart way to get our message out. We need to focus on youth, and I like the directions we're taking."

To that end, the commission is expanding its successful potato comic book promotion, as commission president and chief executive officer Frank Muir unveiled an expanded marketing effort transforming retail marketers into potato sales superheroes.

Using Spuddy Buddy to help in an interactive video format, the commission also plans to target grade-school pupils with a mid-September launch of its Online Harvest Video Game, which will include a $10,000 raffle, with half the money going to schools.