A family legacy
Kevin Searle is the general manager for General Potato and Onion Distributors of Idaho (GPOD) in Shelley, Idaho. Searle has been packing and shipping Russet Burbank potatoes for the fresh market with GPOD for 23 years. Raised on a family farm, Searle also farmed independently for five years and represents the third generation of his family working in the potato industry.
A former member of United States Potato Board (USPB), Searle served as an administrative committee member on the Domestic Marketing Committee. Searle also is a past chairman of the Idaho Grower Shipper Association. He just completed his second term as the chairman for the Idaho and Eastern Oregon Potato Committee and is a previous chairman and current member of the Idaho Potato Commission's Ag Affairs Committee.
Searle is a graduate of the 2006 Potato Industry Leadership Institute class and also completed the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association (UFFVA) Produce Industry Leadership Program in 1997-98. He currently is serving as a member of the Grower/Shipper Advisory Board for UFFVA.
Searle's enthusiasm for the potato industry can be attributed to the people, the product and the purpose. Searle said he is appreciative of the valuable associations he shares with the grower community and allied potato industry. He believes in the quality, value and nutrition of the potatoes he markets through GPOD and in promoting potatoes to consumers everywhere.
"The potato is such a great food with so many wonderful qualities, and in my mind there's not a better place to start," Searle said. "Potatoes are full of energy needed for daily activity. They are gluten-free, have no fat and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. All of this, and they are wallet friendly - very easy on the pocketbook."
GPOD of Idaho began in 1968 from the efforts of John Gellings, an Idaho grower, and Fred Thompson, a southeast Idaho businessman with connections to General Potato and Onion Distributors Ltd. in Stockton, Calif. Recognizing the Idaho industry's ability to grow and produce high-quality Russet Burbank potatoes, and seeking avenues for increased marketing, Gellings and Thompson formed a partnership with the California organization, naming their operation GPOD of Idaho.
Only the highest-quality Russet Burbank potatoes are packed and shipped at GPOD.
"As a shipper, I'm excited for the diversity of different potato varieties enhancing versatility at the consumer level," Searle said. "These bring excitement to the category, benefiting and bringing value to the entire market.
"But at GPOD, there has been one staple that has consistently performed for us, and it's the brown-skin Russet Burbank. We specialize in providing our customers with high-quality Russet Burbanks because it has withstood every test. It remains an industry standard, and this is evident with our retail and foodservice customers for each of the 43 years we've been in business."
GPOD is a wholesale terminal supplier, servicing both retail and foodservice businesses. Located next to a mainline of the Union Pacific railroad in Shelley, GPOD's potatoes are mostly transported by rail. Its chief market is the East Coast.
"This market remains staunchly devoted and favorable to Idaho potatoes," Searle said. "Many small retailers in New England, particularly New York, love Idaho potatoes. These stores shop the wholesale markets on a daily basis where GPOD Russet Burbanks are shipped and sourced, and they serve about 20 million people within a 50-mile radius. Shipping our produce clear across the country nearly every day throughout the year is simply amazing to me. Consumers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and New Jersey continue to ask for Idaho potatoes by name."
Searle said GPOD enjoys loyal business relationships, with roots that run deep. He is proud of GPOD's grower base, and works with 25 to 30 growers in southeast Idaho. Some farms have been GPOD growers since the company's start in 1968.
Searle spoke appreciatively of his recent opportunity to represent Idaho on the USPB's Domestic Marketing Committee.
"I don't have any doubt the Domestic Marketing Committee and the USPB has the general best interest of growers in mind," he said. "The USPB is always asking for grower opinions, statements and input with its long-range plan and overall program development. They have never lost sight of this fact: They are funded by the industry and they are working with the growers' money. The core purpose is improving the business of potato and potato product marketing for growers. It's all about them."
Searle said GPOD shares that vision.
"We are continually seeking to increase the grower's return on investment and working with the USPB to understand today's consumers and how to connect our potatoes with them," he said. "All decisions must be focused and based on what the consumer is looking for. They demand wholesome, good-tasting, quality food that is safely and responsibly produced by our farmers.
"Today's consumer is very astute and interested in the discovery of how their food is produced. Our growers are continually challenged to focus on the consumer, and in turn, the consumer is focusing on the grower, and specifically the production of food. This has been a valuable learning process."
Searle supports USPB's international marketing efforts and its championing the interests of all U.S. potato products. He also extended his praise to the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) for its efforts to promote the industry.
"I am equally proud of what our state organization, the IPC, does to synergize the efforts of both organizations in focusing on a successful future for the potato industry," Searle said.
"We are so much a family in this potato industry. If my fresh deal is more important than another producer's fry or dehy deal, then we're missing something. We all have an equal stake in holding this family together, and we can't risk becoming so fragmented that we end up disrupting our family life."
He encouraged growers across all segments of the industry to get involved in some way.
"As for really finding out what the USPB is doing for the entire industry, I can tell you, but you need to get involved to really understand," he said. "I guess I get a little frustrated with some who tend to be overly critical, or have great expectations with little or no involvement.
"What's right isn't always popular, and what's popular isn't always right. Do what's right and get involved."
Photos by Bill Schaefer: Workers cull Russet Burbank potatoes along one of many lines at the GPOD packing facility.
--By David Fairbourn, U.S. Potato Board