Idaho, USPB dispute continues
Idaho growers advised to remove "Potatoes: Goodness Unearthed" logo
It appears that the rift between the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) and the United States Potato Board (USPB) regarding retail usage of the USPB's Potatoes: Goodness Unearthed (PGU) remains unresolved, with the IPC developing a response to a recent letter from USPB chairman Todd Michael to Idaho growers.
Frank Muir, IPC president, expressed his discontent with proposals and efforts by the USPB to control use of PGU as a retail message.
Following the IPC's monthly meeting on July 27 at its Eagle, Idaho, offices, Muir said that the crux of the issue for the IPC is that USPB has allowed the PGU nutritional message to become a retail brand in at least three states - Wisconsin, Colorado and Michigan - and the board has lost control of the use of the PGU mark.
Muir said that when PGU first had its debut in 2007 he expressed reservations that it not become a retail brand and that would be used only in the context of nutritional messaging.
"Why is USPB meeting with retailers and developing packaging with them? We believe that goes beyond the USPB scope," Muir said. "I'm uncomfortable with things going on behind closed doors."
Current USPB chairman Todd Michael defended the USPB's Domestic Marketing Committee's meeting with retailers.
"We meet with them to go over all our best practices in retailer outreaches," Michael said. "How you display potatoes, communicate with consumers, how you place your ads. We've been doing the best practices program for 10 years, maybe."
Michael said that the bag designer for Wal-Mart approached the USPB seeking help in designing a new bag.
"We didn't go in and say, ‘We'd like to redo your bags.' He asked us if we could help them with that," Michael said. "Packaging is a direct communication with the consumer. So we took all our best practices and offered them as a solution, and Wal-Mart and the bag design company came up with that design."
Muir said that when the PGU was developed in 2007 it was to be used strictly as a nutritional message, not a nutritional slogan.
Muir, IPC representatives and other Idaho organizations are upset with the recent efforts to produce packaging for Wal-Mart using the PGU mark along with other retailers using bags in which the PGU mark is the sole signage on the bag.
"This is not an IPC issue solely," Muir said. "Motions have been brought to us by every grower organization in Idaho."
Muir was adamant that he has always opposed the use of PGU as a retail mark and that efforts by USPB to use the PGU as a recognizable retail mark dilutes the IPC's efforts with the "Grown in Idaho" mark. However, he said that the IPC has "come to accept that other states have embraced for use on their own bags."
He said that Idaho growers are basically funding a national advertising campaign that competes against their own efforts with the IPC. Idaho growers' financial contribution to the IPC is 12.5 cents per cwt. They also contribute 3 cents per cwt. to the USPB.
"Idaho growers are making a big contribution to this industry and they should have a say," Muir said.
According to USPB documents released at its annual meeting in March, Idaho's contributions of $2,132,170.09 in assessments as of January 2011 accounts for almost 26 percent of the National Potato Promotion Board's income.
Muir was critical of a letter USPB chairman Todd Michael sent to Idaho growers last week. Muir said that the letter attempted to make the issue about when IPC became aware of the intent to go to retail.
Muir contends that that is a non-issue. He reiterated that the real issues for the IPC are two-fold:
• Uncontrolled use of the PGU, and
• Retail use of the PGU mark on private label bags and bins.
Muir maintains that the USPB has not addressed the maximum size of the PGU mark nor how control of the mark will be enforced.
Michael said that USPB would consider a maximum size for the PGU mark but that the current minimum size could not be the maximum size.
"We don't know the details of the rules or how they will enforce the rules or penalize those who do not follow the rules," Muir said. "We've (IPC) probably spent over a million plus in protecting our mark."
Michael said that they will have signed agreements with all the bag manufacturers as well as agreements with grower-shippers and once the current inventories are depleted then all bags will have to be submitted, registered and approved.
At this point, Muir said that the IPC has come to accept the fact that other states have adopted the PGU mark for use on their bags.
Muir is encouraging all Idaho growers and shippers to stop using the PGU on their bags and opt for the American Heart Association's Heart Check logo.
"We're going to take another approach," Muir said. "Going to our customers and reinforcing the ‘Grown in Idaho' and the Heart Check marks. That's how we're going to move forward."
Michael said that he thought USPB had made some aggressive choices during the summer meeting in Columbus, Ohio, which a lot of the growers, non-Idaho growers are not happy with.
Michael said that if invited, he would travel to the Idaho Grower-Shippers Association meeting the end of August in Sun Valley, Idaho.
"I would. It's important, even more so now to do what I can to keep the industry united," Michael said.
- By Bill Schaefer, Managing Editor