For decades, most fresh fruits and vegetables sold in grocery produce departments typically got labeled as “commodities,” a term which often suggested that one apple or head of broccoli was pretty much like most other apples or broccoli heads.

Knowing the brand behind them wasn’t top of mind for most consumers.

That has changed radically in recent years, as marketers have brought the power of branding usually associated with CPG goods into the fresh produce department.

There are few if any produce brands as well-known as Idaho potatoes.

cartoon of a beaver with a parachute and text that says "Idaho: why on earth is it known for potatoes?"Source: Idaho Potato CommissionComing up with new ways of telling the Idaho potato story and increasing what is already extremely high brand recognition can be a challenge, but it’s one the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) relishes. Being as creative as possible is key.

“Every year we get together with our agency and throw the most off-the-wall ideas out there and figure out what will fit within our budget,” said Ross Johnson, IPC’s international marketing director. 

The giant spud on wheels is well-known and continues to be a huge brand ambassador for the industry.

More recent are things like the French fry perfume campaign IPC launched in 2022. The premise, Johnson said, was simple (and, of course, funny and whimsical): People like French fries so much, why wouldn’t you want to smell like a French fry?

A gimmick, sure, and not designed to rival Chanel No. 5. The productions was “all done in a garage basically,” as Johnson phrases it.

“I think we produced 250 bottles. We thought we might have trouble selling them. We sold out in under an hour.”

Another campaign in 2022 focused on answering the question: Why is Idaho known for potatoes? The answer focused on how special they are, comparing them to other whimsical ways in which the state is “special” – e.g., landlocked Idaho has one of the biggest submarine facilities in the world.

pint of potato ice creamSource: Idaho Potato Commission

Among this year’s brand marketing highlights are a potato-flavored ice cream made by a well-known regional chain in the Northwest, which has also made Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Hidden Valley Ranch-flavored ice creams.

Made with real chunks of fresh potatoes, it sold out faster than IPC or the ice cream maker expected, Johnson said.

So what’s on tap for the rest of 2023?

“A lot of that we try to keep pretty close to the vest, so it really pops” when it comes on the market, Johnson said.

Because potatoes and Idaho potatoes in particular are so ubiquitous in Americans’ lives, the Idaho brand is always appealing to all demographics at once. Having such a wide audience is obviously a blessing, but it can be a curse, too, Johnson said.

“It’s a blessing in that everyone can associate with it, but it’s a curse because normally when you’re doing a marketing campaign, you target a specific demographic you’re going after. How we do we appeal to the masses, teenagers to older people?”

blue french fry container with a splash of liquid going insideSource: Idaho Potato Commission

The brand messaging, however, is consistent. IPC wants consumers to recognize that the best potatoes in the world come from Idaho.

One of the ways the commission enforces that message with its grocery retail partners is by sending in its industry veterans to stores to analyze category management and that retailer’s particular needs.

These IPC field managers are already experts in their fields. Add to that a partnership with Nielsen, with provides them with the latest data to show retailers where they can promote here, adjust price there and a host of other improvements they can make to their departments.

One thing retailers typically realize pretty quickly, Johnson said, is that because of the strength of the Idaho brand, they can often charge for fresh Idaho product in the produce department.

“Every retailer has their own point of differentiation in their market,” Johnson said. “We try to work with that. For some, if they’re focused on price, they may not be the best fit for us.”

Another way IPC is strengthening the Idaho brand is by strengthening the product itself. A significant part of the commission’s budget supports research at Idaho universities.

A big focus now, Johnson said, is on finding varieties that may last longer, providing more value to consumers and preventing waste. With food prices as they are, consumers are looking for products that last and won’t go bad, he said.