First-Time Potato Promotion at WIC Conference

April 15, 2015  

The Michigan Potato Industry Commission will be an exhibitor at the annual WIC Training and Educational Conference Apr. 28-29.  It’s the first appearance for the Commission at one of these events, held this year at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa at Acme near Traverse City.

In the past there was no reason to attend, explained the Commission’s business/program manager Adam Novello.  WIC is the federal Women’s, Infants and Children’s program that provides food, counseling and educational services to eligible low-income participants.  Since 2009 the program has offered vouchers for purchases of fresh produce, but potatoes were excluded.  Last December Congress put language into an appropriations bill that has brought fresh potatoes into the program.

“Being new to WIC, we wanted to get the word out to state WIC officers that potatoes have joined the club and what that means for consumers,” Novello said.

The conference is sponsored by the Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI), a non-profit organization based in Okemos, which expects attendance of about 750 persons from all the local WIC agencies around the state.  Their roles range from administrators and coordinators to nurses, dietitians, technicians and clerks, according to an MPHI solicitation to potential exhibitors. “These are the people who purchase, use and recommend the items you produce or services you offer,” the document states, citing the advantages of face-to-face contacts with WIC decision-makers.

Novello said, “We hope to build relationships with WIC officers showing the mutual benefit through this new opportunity.”  Conference attendees will receive promotional materials developed by the U.S. Potato Board that emphasize the health and nutritional benefits of potatoes, he said.

The National Potato Council persistently presented the nutritional case to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administrators of the WIC program in hopes of persuading them to overturn their ban.  Potatoes have a long history of benefiting low-income populations by providing a broad range of nutrients including protein at a low cost. The Congressional override of USDA objections now enables the Commission and the entire potato industry to deal with front-lines WIC personnel and demonstrate how the inclusion of potatoes in the voucher program can improve participants’ nutrition and free up money for additional purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Contact at the conference will also be possible with staff members of the Michigan Public Health Institute, which was authorized by the legislature 25 years ago under the Michigan Public Health Code but is independent of the state’s health department.  The MPHI’s purpose, according to its early mission statement, was to enhance the state government’s health services “through an organized program of policy development, planning, scientific research, service demonstrations, education and training.”  The nationwide model of public-health institutes is to function as intermediary agencies between government, universities and private businesses engaging in a wide range of collaborative projects that promote public health.  MPHI has grown to a staff of more than 400 persons and a budget of more than $60 million funded by about 50 public and private sources.

“We expect to make some valuable contacts at the WIC conference,” Novello said.

The Weekly Potato Report