Building Momentum for an American Staple
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Building Momentum for an American Staple

For years, the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) has tried to convince consumers to stop thinking about potatoes as an interchangeable commodity –- no more picking from the closest bin.

Paul Holmes


All spuds are not equal!  For years, the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) has tried to convince consumers to stop thinking about potatoes as an interchangeable commodity – no more picking from the closest bin.  Cohn & Wolfe’s (C&W) mission was to educate and communicate to consumers the superior quality of the Idaho Potato.  Idaho’s climate and soil yield a spud with a high solids content.  Translated for the home chef this means a consistently lighter baked, crispier fried, fluffier mashed potato than its competitors -- a compelling message at the core of all of C&W activities.  By cultivating strong relationships with the media and utilizing them as a conduit to provide “user friendly” information to their readers, C&W has continued to “keep a buzz” in the industry.  This is not an easy feat considering the product is not new, lacks a trendy allure and is perceived as a “good ole’ staple” in the American kitchen.


C&W faced several key challenges:

  • Differentiating the Idaho Potato in the midst of a cluttered market where the American media fights branding every step of the way, particularly in the absence of hard news.
  • Packaging the story so it easily and effectively communicates the benefits of the Idaho Potato to busy editors that are inundated with food news.
  • Competition from trendy starch alternatives like semolina pasta, Yukon Gold potatoes, cous cous and brown rice. 


The IPC relied heavily on C&W to track trends and keep it up-to-date on issues and opportunities.  As most of the IPC members were busy on their farms or running huge potato processing plants, it was imperative that their P.R. partner agency be informed.  

C&W conducted research in a variety of ways.  The team scoured food publications, conducted media audits, reviewed other commodity board programs, hosted food media lunches, obtained and studied annual food trend reports and attended and actively participated in numerous food shows, workshops and industry-related meetings.  

Top line research findings for 1999 – 2000 were incorporated into the program.  Among several of the most popular were:  

  • The return to comfort food – with an innovative twist
  • America is cooking great tasting, easy to prepare foods – many without the use of recipes
  • Americans want bold tasting foods – Latino flavors are favorite
  • Closing the Gender Gap on the internet – women use the web to gather their information
  • By identifying key trends and weaving them into P.R. tactics, C&W provided the editors with timely and relevant information to share with their readers.

C&W’s key objectives were:

  • Maintain sales of Idaho Potatoes in the face of competing starch products.
  • Raise awareness of the value of Idaho Potatoes among consumers.


C&W created a core consumer-focused public relations plan that capitalized on three distinct opportunities:  annual harvest event, branded recipe mailings and Potato Lovers Month. 

To ensure optimum appeal, timeliness and consumer relevance, C&W designed each opportunity to leverage its trend research findings.  In addition to preparing story packages featuring useful, convenient and clever information for consumers, the agency devoted significant time to tailoring story features for key national or highly respected trend-setting food media.  C&W’s success rested on whether the story ideas would interest the media in Idaho Potatoes. 


Annual Harvest Event:  The annual event created by C&W served as a critical platform to bring Idaho Potatoes alive for the media.  It provided the IPC with the opportunity to communicate product benefits, demonstrate recipes and renew/establish relationships with the discerning NYC-based food editors.  In mid September – as the first potatoes of the season are harvested -- growers, shippers and processors trekked to NYC to hand-deliver the crop and share intimate knowledge of the year’s crop.  Old friendships were renewed and new ones created on a yearly basis.  Media had the opportunity to sample the freshest potatoes on earth and mingle with the folks who get ‘em from farm to table.

2000 was the fifth year that C&W created a harvest event on behalf of the IPC.  The goal/challenge was to design a function that was intriguing enough for the editors to attend for the fifth consecutive year.  “Idaho Potatoes 2000” capitalized on the glamour of the millennium as media was treated to an elegant sit down tasting dinner starring the Idaho Potato at the elegant Beacon Restaurant in Midtown Manhattan.  Juxtaposed to the splendor of the evening was a not-soon-forgotten game of Spuddy Buddy Bingo (Spuddy Buddy is the IPC’s lovable mascot) hosted by celebrity food personality, Jacqui Malouf.  During the evening, guests were dazzled with culinary demonstrations and an array of mouth-watering Idaho Potato-based delicacies.  Idaho Potatoes 2000 proved a memorable venue for the IPC to share their expertise on farming, shipping and processing potatoes with the media in a one-of-a-kind setting.

Potato Lovers Month (February):  C&W created three initiatives launched in February 2000 to celebrate Potato Lovers Month: a Run of Press (ROP); Spuddy Buddy Shopping Pad and Spuddy Buddy Giveaway – all three were designed to educate consumers about Idaho Potatoes and to look for the “Grown in Idaho” seal when purchasing potatoes.  

The ROP featured five easy to prepare, comfort food themed recipes (all using Idaho Potatoes), key message points, color graphic of Spuddy Buddy and general information about purchasing, storage and cooking potatoes.  

The Spuddy Buddy Shopping Pad was a 50-page rectangular-shaped grocery shopping pad with a magnet on the back for convenient refrigerator display available free to consumers.  The pad featured key message points, Idaho Potatoes at the top of the shopping list, website address and prominent visual of the Grown in Idaho seal.

The Spuddy Buddy Giveaway, featured in the nationally syndicated Martin Sloan Supermarket Shopper column, encouraged consumers to go on line to and print out a copy of the seal to mail in and receive a free Spuddy Buddy.

Recipe Mailings:  Designed to keep Idaho Potatoes as a regular entity in the weekly food pages, C&W embarked on a campaign to identify non-traditional occasions when consumers can prepare Idaho Potatoes.  Specifically in 1999 – 2000, C&W initiated two such mailings – Mummified Mashed Idaho Potatoes for kids and families to prepare on Halloween -- a holiday not generally associated with healthy eating and Mild Medium and Hot Idaho Potato Fries, which debuted in February, Potato Lovers Month. The Halloween effort tapped into a noticeable trend whereby kids are increasingly getting into the “kitchen action” and seasoned baked fries were very “hot” at the time C&W initiated the special February fries mailing.  Both recipes featured low-fat, quick ‘n easy recipes and bright eye-catching photography.


Each part of the program met its objectives.  

Objective 1:  Sales of Idaho Potatoes remained at previous levels in the face of urgent competition from fashionable and highly promoted starch dishes.

Objective 2:  C&W provided food editors with compelling information that resulted in an increase in event attendance, consumer awareness about Idaho Potatoes and ultimately the consistent demand for this product.

Annual Harvest Event:  A tremendous success in regard to establishing/renewing relationships with the media.  In total, 33 food media attended – a record for this annual event – increased by 7 editors from the previous year.  As C&W continues it’s ongoing dialog with the media, many stories/placements are tracking higher than past years.  In fact the event was so successful that the IPC decided to expand its scope to include the first Idaho Potato event in the Los Angeles area. Additionally, C&W secured 4 broadcast hits for the IPC.

Potato Lovers Month:  

ROP received 125 placements resulting in approximately 23 million consumer impressions.

C&W produced 10,000 Spuddy Buddy Shopping Pads, which were featured as consumer giveaways in food pages nationwide.  In a record period of time, C&W gave away all of the pads.  The initiative was so successful that C&W re-launched in February 2001.

The entire inventory (1,000) of Spuddy Buddies was given away during the 4-week promotion for the Spuddy Buddy Giveaway.
Recipe Mailings:  Both recipe mailings along with accompanying photography were picked up by the Associated Press and resulted in over 350 placements creating more than 41 million consumer impressions.

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