The American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute has received $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote U.S. sweet potatoes in western Europe.

The funding from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service will be used for generic promotion of fresh and processed sweet potatoes. The one-year promotion starts July 1.

Funding for an additional year is being sought, with plans to add countries and regions including Canada and Mexico.

The promotion will target consumers, retailers, foodservice and food manufacturers. Netherlands-based Phaff Export Marketing will manage the campaign.

The Benson, N.C.-based nonprofit institute formed just last year. Its diversity was critical to obtaining Market Access Program funds quickly, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, treasurer.

“We realized that it needed to be a separate organization that was inclusive of the sweet potato industry in the U.S.,” she said. “So we campaigned and we have members from five states.”

The group represents growers in North Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“North Carolina is at 49% of the production, but other states have a good amount of acreage,” Johnson-Langdon said. “Over the next five or six years, we would like to see exports double.”

The Western Europe promotion will focus on web and social media, trade publications and editorials for a consumer audience, Johnson-Langdon said. Retail-level promotion won’t be included, at least for the first year.

“We did not target specific countries in the proposal,” she said. “We kept it broad. Some countries would work, others wouldn’t. Of course we will have to pick languages and countries, but that will come when we get into it.”

Johnson-Langdon is also executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, whose offices host the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute.

“Some companies in North Carolina have been exporting for 15 to 20 years,” she said. “Within the last 10 years we’ve seen exports rising. For this promotion, we chose Western Europe because we had a foothold already there. You can build on that. We wanted to know we would have good outcomes, and that meant going where sweet potatoes are already known.”

The USDA funds must be used for promotion; overhead comes from industry contributions.