Eagle, Idaho — Eighteen years ago, the Idaho® potato industry was in crisis. Consumers were shunning potatoes due to the rising popularity of low-carb diets, the new consumer focus on buying local (locavore movement) was beginning to expand across the country and the Idaho® potato farm gate revenue was declining. In 2003, the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) commissioners knew they needed new direction. To face these challenges, the commissioners hired Frank Muir, a proven marketing executive with over 20 years of experience turning brands around and replacing stale marketing programs with consumer-driven, demand-building initiatives. While President and CEO, Muir led a transformation of the industry, increased demand for Idaho® potatoes and introduced many new and unique marketing programs while ultimately making Idaho® potatoes America’s favorite premium branded vegetable. And most importantly, doubling Idaho® potato farm gate revenue.
Muir recently announced that he will be retiring from the IPC in the fall of 2021.
“In my association with Frank over the past eighteen years, I’ve never met a man with such passion and compassion. He has become the face and voice of Idaho® potatoes and has brought so much value and integrity to our name,” said Randy Hardy, Idaho® potato grower and former IPC Chairman. “His passion for portraying Famous Idaho® Potatoes as an elite brand is evidenced by the overwhelming recognition by the consumer that Idaho is known for quality potatoes. Through this style of leadership he has exhibited kindness and compassion in his relationship with his staff, industry leaders and potato growers.”
“As a former employee of the IPC and now as Chairman, I’ve been able to work for and alongside Frank and experience first-hand his never wavering commitment to the industry,” explained Todd Cornelison, Chairman, IPC. “He’s a master at leveraging the IPC’s marketing budget and programs in ways we may never see again – always encouraging his staff and agency partners to not only think about new ways to promote Idaho® potatoes, but to develop ideas that make Idaho® potatoes synonymous with quality.”
Below are some of Muir’s major accomplishments during the past 18 years:
- Re-established Idaho as the premium branded potato, actually increasing an already dominant market share in the United States.
- Doubled annual revenue to $1 Billion to growers and over $4 Billion value added revenue to Idaho through processing. Posted an unprecedented record of eight consecutive year-over-year revenue increases.
- Reversed negative public perception of Idaho® potatoes by “fighting back” against low-carb diets by creating a nutrition-focused multi-year ad campaign featuring fitness guru, Denise Austin. With increased funding supported by the industry in 2008, the regional TV campaign was expanded nationally, a first for the IPC. A powerful complementary public relations campaign generated over 700 articles in mainstream and agricultural media. Net impact was a significant improvement of consumer perception about potato nutrition.
- To further bolster the nutrition message, secured and leveraged the American Heart Association certification mark stating Idaho® potatoes are heart-healthy. Negotiated a reduced license to allow all Idaho shippers to print the widely recognized and respected Heart Check Mark on their bags.
- Increased emphasis on leveraging traditional media and social media together to generate record publicity; now averaging over six billion media impressions annually.
- Revamped and retrained field staff to become more proactive by using category management tools and encouraged them to work closer with shippers to close the gap between shippers and customers.
- Created a Strategic Solutions Team of industry leaders to help the Idaho® potato industry prioritize and address six major issues affecting growers, shippers and processors thereby aligning previously conflicting groups toward shared objectives.
- Significantly increased the fresh potato export business by implementing multiple training seminars for Idaho shippers; taking shippers to international trade shows and hiring a new staff position to manage international business development. From previously shipping no fresh Idaho® potatoes internationally 18 years ago, Idaho now ships fresh potatoes to over 20 countries including being a dominant brand leader in Mexico. IPC was also instrumental in expanding Idaho-produced dehydrated products world-wide.
- Led Idaho in expanding its portfolio beyond its famous russets to other varieties (e.g., reds, yellows, fingerlings, organic) creating a “one-stop-shop-state.”
- Proactively worked with Lamb Weston, Inc. to create the first ever 100% Idaho frozen line of retail potato products -nine SKU’s called “Grown In Idaho.” The brand leverages all the IPC’s marketing programs including the farmer that appears in the IPC’s television commercials.
- Negotiated the title sponsorship of the Famous Idaho® Potato Bowl game played on Boise State University’s famous blue turf. Acquired by ESPN in 2013, the bowl game generates over $14 million dollars in media value annually. The IPC’s mascot, Spuddy Buddy, who can be found on the sidelines cheering on the teams, was declared by ESPN as the best mascot in bowl history.
- The Big Idaho® Potato Truck was created in 2012 to celebrate the IPC’s 75th anniversary. The multi-ton Potato has visited 48 states (multiple times) and every year generates national record-breaking publicity. During the Truck’s fourth year, “A Big Helping” element was added to the Tour. This initiative was designed to support local charities in the markets the Truck visits, further strengthening Idaho brand loyalty in communities nationwide. The “missing” Truck has played a major role in IPC TV ads the past nearly 10 years.
- Leveraged cause marketing relationships to help reach more consumers (and because it’s the right thing to do): UNICEF, Extreme Make Over – Home Edition, TODAY Show’s “Lend a Hand,” Feed My Starving Children and Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome (RODS), to name just a few.
- Improved all aspects of communication with the Idaho® potato industry and beyond:
- MarketPlace Report (weekly): field representatives identify opportunities for shippers
- The Edge (quarterly): round-up of IPC marketing programs that’s emailed to all industry constituents
- Big Idaho® Potato Harvest Meeting (annual): the main purpose of the day-long meeting is to present the annual marketing plan to growers
- Retail / Foodservice Shipper Visits (annual): IPC VP’s and their field representatives meet one-on-one with all Idaho shippers to address issues and build relations
- Established a policy that all media inquiries must be responded to resulting in approximately 1-3 daily interviews by the CEO. As a result, Muir has become one of the most quoted produce industry leaders in the country, including appearing on national broadcasts like the Dr. Oz show
- Created an award-winning website, idahopotato.com, the most sought after source for potato questions or recipes
- Leveraged all leading social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube) to extend the brand’s messaging and engage consumers across all demographics
- Published two consumer e-newsletters every month – Tater Talk and Let’s Eat
- Identified and successfully averted crisis situations:
- Executed a “textbook example of how an industry can effectively address an emergency” (Capital Press) in the handling of the 2006 cyst nematode issue; net impact was no decline in domestic sales and reopening export markets
- Quickly pivoted all marketing programs to direct a major shift in demand from foodservice to retail during the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby minimizing the impact of the nationwide shutdown of restaurants
- Received over 200 marketing, advertising and public relations awards for outstanding programs. Awards include multiple Telly, ADDY, Hermes, AVA, MarCom and NAMA awards.
- In 2012, Grocery Headquarters magazine named the IPC one of the top seven commodity commissions (out of over 400) in the U.S.
These are just the highlights of Muir’s illustrious career at the IPC. Since his retirement announcement, many industry leaders have been saying, “His shoes will be very difficult to fill.”
About the Idaho Potato Commission
Established in 1937, the Idaho Potato Commission is a state agency that is responsible for promoting and protecting the famous “Grown in Idaho®” seal, a federally registered trademark that assures consumers they are purchasing genuine, top-quality Idaho® potatoes. Idaho’s growing season of warm days and cool nights, ample mountain-fed irrigation and rich volcanic soil, give Idaho® potatoes their unique texture, taste and dependable performance. These ideal growing conditions are what differentiate Idaho® potatoes from potatoes grown in other states. For more information, visit www.idahopotato.com.