Interview with Mike Gatz of Bushmans’ Inc.

Mike Gatz

Mike Gatz in front of the new Spudmobile.

by Tamas Houlihan, Managing Editor of the Badger Common’Tater

When the Spudmobile was launched on August 12, 2014 at Farm Technology Days in Stevens Point, no one was happier or more proud than Michael Gatz.

Gatz has served as Chairman of the WPVGA Promotions Committee for the past three years, during which time he has worked diligently to shepherd the Spudmobile project to its completion.

Gatz has worked for Bushmans’, Inc. since 2009. Headquartered in Rosholt, Wisconsin, Bushmans’, Inc. is a large grower and marketer of potatoes, onions and other vegetables. As Director of Business Development, Gatz’s primary role with the company is to support the growth of existing accounts, as well as develop new avenues of growth for the company. On the creative side, he assists in the development of new packaging and marketing strategies.

In the following interview, Gatz talks about the Spudmobile and provides an overview of the other projects being undertaken by the WPVGA Promotions Committee, while also commenting on the upcoming potato marketing season.

How would you describe the overall concept of the Spudmobile?

The Spudmobile will be a mobile marketing and educational tool, designed to bring a hands-on experience to the public highlighting Wisconsin potatoes. Where and how will it be used?

We envision that the Spudmobile will be used throughout Wisconsin (and neighboring states) to promote Wisconsin potatoes at schools, festivals and retail outlets. Depending on the venue, it has the flexibility of being education focused or more of a marketing vehicle for Wisconsin potatoes. Our primary goal is to provide a fun, interactive experience to everyone who visits the Spudmobile!

What are the highlights of the interior of the Spudmobile?

The Spudmobile has eight interactive stations designed for fun and education. Displays highlight technological advances in growing as well as the history of Wisconsin potato farming. There is also an interactive potato variety and recipe station, and a giant gaming station for kids. The Spudmobile was designed to appeal to the entire family!

As Chairman of the WPVGA Promotions Committee, what do you see as the key projects taken on by the committee?

The Spudmobile has been one of the largest projects that the committee has undertaken. That said, we have also developed several exciting marketing avenues for Wisconsin potatoes. Most recently, the WPVGA has partnered with regional television personalities Mad Dog & Merrill. On many of their upcoming cooking shows, they will be highlighting creative uses for Wisconsin potatoes.

Last year, we did a limited trial of our Potatopalooza program, a festival-like event highlighting Wisconsin potatoes that included games, challenges, and giveaways at retail outlets. This year, we hope to expand that program (using the Spudmobile!) and make October a Potatopalooza month-long celebration.

We have recently created new “Buy Local” bin displays, as well as new secondary displays that will hold up to 100# of potatoes and /or onions for retail store kits. The new displays are available now.

Additionally, the WPVGA has become a sponsor with Tundra Racing. Given the enthusiasm for racing in our state, we are excited about the level of exposure this will give Wisconsin potatoes.

What are some of the recent trends you’ve seen with regard to potato marketing?

I’m seeing a trend toward value-added packaging; 1-, 2-, and 3-pound items such as fingerlings and C-size red, yellow and purple potatoes are trending in popularity as people are more creative and experimental with their home potato cooking.

What do you think are the primary reasons that Wisconsin potato marketers consistently lead the nation in return to grower?

Location, location, location! Wisconsin has great freight advantages over western state growers, given our proximity to population centers. Add to that our consistently excellent product and aggressive marketing campaigns, and you have the opportunity to sustain these returns for years to come.

We have an excellent crop this year! With the size and quality we are seeing, we should be able to aggressively promote Wisconsin potatoes throughout the year.

Wisconsin Spudmobile Hits the Road

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Nick Somers (front row, second from left) and Chris Brooks use teamwork to cut the ribbon at the Spudmobile dedication ceremony. The WPVGA’s mobile education unit made its debut appearance at Farm Tech Days held August 12-14 in Stevens Point. Photo by Casey Lake/Point Journal Media.

The Wisconsin Spudmobile is on the road. This mobile education unit developed by the Wisconsin Potato &Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) made its debut appearance at Farm Technology Days in Stevens Point, August 12-14.  A press conference and ribbon cutting ceremony was held on August 13 at the WPVGA booth.  All eyes were on this amazing new information and educational tool.

“This is a traveling billboard that is actually functional,” says WPVGA Director of Promotions Dana Rady. “It contains eight exhibits that will educate visitors about the quality work Wisconsin growers do, including how they conserve Mother Nature’s resources, utilize the most up-to-date technologies and provide quality and affordable food for families on a daily basis.” It has also proven to be a significant investment for the industry, and one that has and will continue to require a team-oriented approach. “Members of the industry have been involved in the process since day one,” says Rady. “That isn’t going to change with the events lined up and the requests for appearances the Spudmobile has received so far.”

The project began four years ago when Stevens Point potato grower Nick Somers had an idea at a WPVGA Promotions Committee meeting. “We were looking for new and innovative ways to promote Wisconsin potatoes and educate the public about all the different aspects of the Wisconsin potato industry,” said Somers. The concept of the Spudmobile is similar to that of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, in that it’s a traveling billboard and a mobile trade show booth. It will be taken to county fairs, agricultural events, schools, grocery stores and athletic events, just to name a few of its possible uses.

“The Spudmobile is a valuable informational, educational vehicle that tells the story of Wisconsin potatoes,” Somers continued. “Inside the Spudmobile, we describe all areas of the Wisconsin potato industry, including historical facts as well as the modern technology that today’s farmers use to raise high yielding, high quality crops in an environmentally-friendly manner. There are displays and exhibits that explain how potatoes are grown, from planting seed to cultivating, irrigating and harvesting, right on through to bagging, packaging and storage. There are also interactive games for children to play while learning about potatoes.

There is a display that describes the many varieties of potatoes that are grown in Wisconsin, as well the best uses for each of those varieties. There are also numerous recipes available for visitors to take home and use to enjoy the wonderful flavors that Wisconsin potatoes offer.”

“Potatoes are a healthy, nutritious food that can be prepared in a wide variety of ways and are loved by children and adults alike,” said Somers. “Potatoes are America’s favorite vegetable and we’d like everyone to buy locally grown, affordable Wisconsin potatoes!”

The Spudmobile features eight exhibits that take visitors on a journey from the farmer’s field right to their dinner plates in a matter of moments. Through interactive technologies and eye-catching, colorful graphics, exhibits are sure to tempt the taste buds of anyone who walks past. First, they’ll receive information on all the ways farmers are stewards of the environment by learning about irrigation practices and the science and water use monitoring that occurs behind the scenes. Today’s growers use prescription farming practices, only applying water and chemicals when and where they are needed.

Next, visitors will travel to the “Potato Variety and Recipe” exhibit, which will help broaden their knowledge of the many potato types that exist and how to prepare them in different recipes. And making it fun, visitors can touch an actual potato and watch as the information about that variety pops up onto the viewing screen!

The exhibit will emphasize more well-known types like fresh reds, russets, yellows, and whites, while also incorporating specialty potatoes like fingerlings and purples. Additionally, visitors will learn about long white and russet potatoes used for French fries as well as round white potatoes used for chip production.

The goal of the potato variety and recipe exhibit is to let people know about all the choices they have with potatoes and how easy it is to make healthy dishes with the wide variety of potato types that are offered in Wisconsin. And best of all, visitors will leave with recipes that are not only healthy, but also have short prep and cooking times, and therefore, fit within the tight time constraints of today’s busy families.

The third exhibit, called “Field to Fork,” will be hard to miss as it visually takes visitors through a potato field and shows the beginnings of America’s favorite vegetable. Visitors can then control a wall-mounted tablet to plant, grow, harvest and process their own crop, which the game concludes by taking them to the dinner tables.

It’s a hands-on approach that the WPVGA believes will help people learn and remember where their food comes from. It will help remind families and younger generations about all the hard work Wisconsin growers do to make sure their potatoes and vegetables are the highest quality for the greatest value each and every year. It will give people a front row seat to see what happens behind the scenes, and let them be farmers for a day without traveling to a farm.

As visitors continue through the Spudmobile, they’ll learn about the areas that grow potatoes throughout Wisconsin at the “Potato Growing Communities” exhibit. Displaying a wall graphic that features photos of actual potato growers, the exhibit features growers in all the different Wisconsin locations that produce potatoes. It will also incorporate stories and details about farming communities within these areas to provide people with a unique perspective into how vast and important the potato and vegetable industry truly is.

At the back area of the Spudmobile, visitors will see a large monitor surrounded by vibrant agriculture-related graphics in the “TheaTater” exhibit. The screen will show short videos that cover all aspects of the industry. A few examples include growing technology, economics, sustainability and potato nutrition and varieties, which will play on a continuous loop.

As visitors watch the videos, they’ll be able to relax on potato bean bag chairs that will be surrounded by information about the health benefits potatoes offer as well as thought-provoking tidbits in the “Nutrition and Fun Facts” exhibit. For example, did you know potatoes are free of fat, cholesterol, gluten and sodium? Did you also know that taters are packed with nutrients and vitamins, and are fantastic sources of potassium? A potato actually contains more potassium than a banana!

The seventh exhibit will share the deep-rooted history of Wisconsin’s potato production. Thanks to a collaboration of information from growers, the “History of Wisconsin Potato Farming” exhibit will provide that historical component with a series of personal stories and pictures from farms in various areas of the state.

Last but not least, the little tater tots that visit the Spudmobile will have a game just for them at the “Interactive Potato Touch Table” exhibit. A potato-shaped table top will engage kids with interactive games including a puzzle, a bug-catching game and a musical keyboard, to name a few. It’s a great way to help kids learn about potatoes on a completely different level.

The Spudmobile symbolizes success, technology and vision. It is a sign of moving forward with strength. The WPVGA is confident that the Spudmobile provides an experience the Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers are sure will be unforgettable, and leave everyone hungry for more.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Wisconsin Spudmobile, coming soon to a Wisconsin location near you!

Note: Special thanks go out to the WPVGA Promotions Committee, the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary, the WPVGA Associate Division and the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association, all of whom contributed time, effort and monetary donations toward the Spudmobile project. It was a truly a team effort on the part of the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry and could not have been accomplished without the support of all of these groups.