Frank Muir, Idaho Potato Commission
Frank Muir, Idaho Potato Commission

The Idaho Potato Commission is usually thrilled to be in the news.

We make a concerted effort to ensure that informative stories are regularly covered in consumer and agriculture trade press.

The past few weeks have found Idaho potatoes in the news for reasons that offer different challenges.

First, we are battling the recent Harvard study that claims potatoes are the leading cause of obesity in America.

Many have joined us in this fight. Idaho’s own governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, sent an op-ed to The Los Angeles Times detailing many facts that counter this study.

I have been interviewed by multiple news organizations nearly every day since the study was released.

However, the controversy regarding the potato’s nutritional profile is not new to the industry.

Idaho has a right to protect its potato brandWhen the low-carb diet fad created an anti-potato image more than a decade ago, the Idaho Potato Commission began expanding its resources in 2003 to set the record straight in regard to potato nutrition.

The potato commission launched its first nutrition-based TV commercial in August 2003 and within two months had contracted with America’s favorite fitness expert, Denise Austin, to be our spokeswoman.

In fact, Idaho led the entire potato industry in fighting back. By 2007, the Idaho Potato Commission had expanded its TV campaign to run nationally as a result of an Idaho industry-supported tax increase that was used exclusively for national advertising.

The net result was that consumers’ negative impressions about potatoes, which had been on the rise, began to decline in 2004 and the decline accelerated following the national TV campaign.

The commission has spent more than $30 million since 2003 communicating the truth about potato nutrition. Idaho has led the way in defending the potato, benefiting the entire industry. Our research shows that when Idaho advertises, it drives the entire category, not just Idaho sales.

The second issue currently in the trade news is the U.S. Potato Board’s trademark “Potatoes — Goodness Unearthed” that was unveiled in 2007.

The intent of this mark was to be the foundation of a nationally funded nutrition campaign supported by a budget of less than $1 million per year.

The U.S. Potato Board sought to leverage the minimal budget by asking potato growers, shippers, etc., to include this new trademark on their sheds, trucks and bags.

Shippers in some states have adopted the Potatoes — Goodness Unearthed trademark as their brand name, nearly covering the front of their bags with the logo.

Retailers are now considering putting the trademark on their own private-label bags.

Here are the issues to Idaho growers:

  • The U.S. Potato Board has not carefully controlled the use of its trademark. It promised that Potatoes — Goodness Unearthed would not be used as a brand, but some shippers in non-Idaho states are using it as a brand.

Idaho has spent nearly 75 years promoting, protecting and controlling its federally registered certification marks: “Grown in Idaho” and “Idaho” potatoes.

Idaho growers do not need a national trademark or brand to compete with, especially one they are required to help fund through the U.S. Potato Board-mandated tax.

We recognize that other states have adopted the potato board’s trademark, but they must follow the rules of its use, which includes a maximum size limit.

  • If retailers add the Potatoes — Goodness Unearthed mark to their private-label bags, whether the bags contain Idaho potatoes or not, it increases the risk that consumers will not notice the Grown in Idaho seal is missing. The bags will look identical so most consumers will likely not even question where the potatoes were grown.

We recognize that other states might not see that as an issue, but Idaho growers have spent millions of dollars creating the most famous brand of potatoes in the world. They have every right and obligation to protect it.

Frank Muir is president and chief executive officer of the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.