(Sept. 3) SUN VALLEY, Idaho — The potato crop is coming along fine. That, and a little golf and good times, was enough to make growers smile at this years’ Idaho Grower Shippers Association convention.

A little more than 300 attended the event, Aug. 27-30, said Dave Smith, president of the Idaho Falls-based association.

Many words of appreciation came for Mel Anderson, who is soon to retire as executive director of the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise.

“I know he’s had a great effect on the Idaho potato industry and all who are in it,” said Wayne Allen, chairman of the commission.

There were 153 applicants for Anderson’s job, Allen said. The field was narrowed to five and then a choice was made.

The result of that search, Frank Muir, was introduced Aug. 28 as the new president and chief executive officer of the commission.

“I’ve got to work to get the respect this icon has,” Muir said of Anderson. “When he walks through the hotel and everyone you can possibly see walks up to say ‘Hi Mel,’ you know he’s got some respect, and is well-loved.”

Only 7% of foodservice operators use branding of potatoes on their menus, this despite the fact Idaho potatoes have a 96% awareness among consumers, said Gwen Friedow, of Chicago ad agency Schafer, Condon & Carter, which handles marketing for the commission.

“They’re not specifying because they want flexibility,” Friedow said. “If a product becomes scarce or expensive, that’s not ideal for the foodservice operator.”

Among the dozen or so major chains that do specify Idaho spuds are: Ground Round, Soup ‘R Salad and Morton’s of Chicago.

Some foodservice buyers indicate a preference for premium packs with larger sizes and more perfect shapes, she said.

Past advertising aimed at foodservice sought to create awareness for Idaho spuds, said Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice for the commission.

New ads seek to have chefs and buyers specify Idaho, Odiorne said. Indeed, chefs already have indicated what they would like.

“Our most requested items are quantity-based recipes,” he said.

For retail merchandising displays, the commission has devised a 20-inch inflatable Spuddy Buddy. That goes along with plans for major brand tie-ins, including one with Cheez-Whiz, Anderson said.

The commission plans to be seen — and heard — by more this year through a new Spuddy Buddy commercial in both English and Spanish. The Spanish commercial will run in Phoenix, San Antonio and Sacramento, Calif.

And pushing the retail message in the Northeast is Ken Tubman, a former Sav-A-lot produce director recently hired as a field representative.