50 for 50: Frank Muir

Published online: Jun 25, 2021 50 for 50
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Throughout 2021, as part of Potato Grower’s celebration of our 50th year in publication, we will be honoring in our pages and on our website 50 of the potato industry’s most innovative and influential individuals, companies and organizations over the past half-century. This “50 for 50” series will include researchers, salesmen, packers, processors and, of course, plenty of potato growers. A lot of them will be names you’ve heard before. To some, you’ll get a fresh introduction. Regardless, each has had an outsize impact on the U.S. potato industry, and each deserves our thanks and recognition. To view the full roster of “50 for 50” honorees, click here
This article appears in the June 2021 issue of Potato Grower.

“Trust me.”

That was Frank Muir’s message to the Idaho Potato Commission (IPC) when he was hired as the organization’s president and CEO in 2003.

At the time, Idaho potatoes were largely viewed by the consuming public as just … well, just potatoes. Dull, brown and, honestly, kind of boring. Idaho potatoes were a stale brand and were being publicly beaten down by the low-carb diets being touted by countless nutrition experts.

Idaho was nothing more than a supply source for potatoes,” he says now. “It was not a brand.” If he was going to take the reins, Muir wasn’t going to stand for that kind of perception to persist.

Muir had already built a career on reviving struggling brands — Peter Pan peanut butter and La Choy packaged Chinese foods among them. So when the IPC commissioners trusted him with their product, they expected a challenging of the status quo. Muir immediately set to work implementing a strategy for the Idaho potato industry to accomplish three overarching goals:

  1. Fight back against the portrayal of potatoes as an unhealthy food;
  2. Encourage growers to produce a wider range of potato varieties; and
  3. Open export markets, which the Idaho industry had largely ignored historically.

“I wanted Idaho to be a one-stop shop for all things potato,” Muir says. “I wanted people across the country and around the world to seek out Idaho potatoes specifically, and I knew we could make it happen if we could think outside the box.”

Indeed, Muir has proven to be an outside-the-box thinker, and dozens of his ideas have paid off immensely for the Idaho potato industry. He was the mastermind behind creating a nutrition-focused, multi-year ad campaign featuring fitness guru Denise Austin. He secured and leveraged the American Heart Association certification mark acknowledging that Idaho potatoes are heart-healthy, negotiating a reduced license to allow all Idaho shippers to print the Heart Check Mark on their bags. He negotiated the title sponsorship of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, which generates over $14 million in media value annually. In 2012, he helped launch the Big Idaho Potato Truck to celebrate the IPC’s 75th anniversary. The truck’s tour was such a success that it’s been on the road virtually ever since.

Through it all, Muir has made an effort to keep close to the growers and shippers who are the basis of everything that make Idaho potatoes such a bankable brand. They’ve put their trust in him, and that trust has yielded perhaps the most trusted produce brand in the world. When Muir officially retires this fall, you might as well put this favorite catchphrase of his on his professional headstone:

“Every new idea is crazy — until it works.”