Evolution of a Brand

Potandon at 20 years old

Published in the August 2015 Issue Published online: Aug 16, 2015 Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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Over the last 20 years, Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Potandon Produce L.L.C. has thrived precisely because of its willingness to evolve with an ever-changing industry. A glimpse at the company’s history (a relatively short but wildly successful one) illustrates what a pivotal role that willingness can play in any organization’s success.

In 1995, The Pillsbury Company saw fit to move away from marketing fresh produce under its Green Giant® brand. That decision likely would have meant the end of the Green Giant fresh potato and onion business. However, senior Pillsbury managers Jeff Sholl, Mel Davenport, Kent Romrell and Steve Ottum led a buyout of the fresh potato and onion division. In the buyout, they acquired the exclusive licensing rights to the Green Giant brand for fresh potatoes and onions in North America. Utilizing the Green Giant brand has proven key to the company’s success.

“We loved the produce industry,” recalls Ottum, now Potandon’s co-chief operating officer. “We loved the fresh potato and onion business and where we could see it going in the future. We didn’t want that to go away.”
To complete the transition, the new company needed a name. “Most of the easy names were taken by somebody else,” Ottum says with a chuckle. “I started playing with the letters of our two commodities and came up with ‘Potandon,’ for POTatoes AND ONions, and it stuck. We’ve become a world-recognized company in the industry.”

Today, Potandon is the largest marketer of fresh potatoes and one of the largest fresh onion marketers in North America. Its serves as a marketing agent for numerous cooperatives made up of potato and onion growers from Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Minnesota, North Dakota, Florida and Texas. It also has a Canadian partner, EarthFresh Farms, representing the Green Giant brand in Canada. Along with senior management, many of those growers are part-owners of Potandon.

“They’re a strategic supply to the company; we’re a strategic sales arm to get their product to market,” Ottum says, describing the mutual benefits of the partnerships. “We do our part because we’re good at it, and they do theirs because they’re good at it. We’re very dependent on each other. It’s a cemented relationship that has worked well. We’ve evolved to that business model over that 20-year period.”

Before Potandon, nobody had made a significant effort to introduce a nationally recognized consumer brand for fresh potatoes or onions. Packages largely featured the labels of individual packing facilities. Labeling every box and bag with its Green Giant brand, other Potandon labels and private labels, Potandon’s name recognition and popularity exploded.

As it celebrates its 20th birthday throughout 2015, Potandon continues to take pride in being an industry innovator. Another area in which the company has evolved—and been an industry leader in—is variety development. “We have literally searched the globe for great varieties,” says Ottum. “We’ve worked with breeders all over the world searching for the latest and greatest potato that might work here in North America.”

The company has brought in its proprietary varieties from around the world, the most well-known of which are probably the red-skinned, yellow-fleshed Klondike Rose™ potato or the yellow-skinned, yellow fleshed Klondike Goldust™ potato. “Klondike Rose was something that was unheard of when we introduced it 12 years ago,” says Ottum. “It’s pretty wild, even today, but it turned out to be a really unique and successful product.”

Ottum firmly believes Potandon’s success stems from two primary things. First is its having embraced evolution rather than making an attempt to hold it off. “What you absolutely cannot do is nothing,” he stresses. “That’s No. 1. As an industry, we all need to move forward.” Secondly, and just as important, he emphasizes "are the great employees, growers, vendor partners and customers to make it all happen. Without the hard work and loyalty of all we would not be where we are today."

While he concedes that perhaps not everyone is suited to the role of innovator, Ottum understands the importance of individuals and companies welcoming any change that improves business across the industry. “People and companies can survive and succeed under lots of different scenarios,” he says, “but the path we’ve chosen is to try to meet consumer needs when the consumer doesn’t even know they have the need, and try to get ahead of the curve and provide for those needs.

“It’ll be fun to sit back 20 years from now and really look back and see how far we will have come in our second 20 years,” he continues, leaning back in his chair a little. “There are so many more exciting things we can do. There are just so many opportunities.”