Proper packaging can make the difference between a sale or no sale.

Growers of North Carolina sweet potatoes say bags and other packaging help sell more of their product.

“People really look at the packaging and it’s more appealing to the eyes,” said Thomas Joyner, general manager of Nash Produce Co., Nashville, N.C.

“It’s a simple produce for convenience. Not a lot is sold in bags but some of the customers that are utilizing bags are having some good success.”

Joyner said Nash’s bags provide stories on the produce and links to recipes so the shopper can experience more than just buying the product.

He said consumers like to know where their produce originates.

Bags account for about 10% of the sweet potato sales for Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C., said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer.

While the 3- and 5-pound bags move well in supermarket produce aisles, they sell even better during the holidays and some club stores are merchandising sweet potatoes in 10-pound bags, he said.

“Bags are always a big holiday item and these bags are moving better year-round,” he said. “The bags give consumers a choice.”

Vick Family Farms, Wilson, N.C., has entered the bagged sweet potato category.

This fall, it installed bagging machinery to pack 3-, 5- and 10-pound bags.

Initially, the grower-shipper plans to pack the 3- and 5-pound bags because customers aren’t demanding the 10-pound bags, said Charlotte Vick, partner.

“Value-added seems to be very important now,” she said. “I’ve only been involved in packing and sales for a little over a year now, but I can see the importance of value-added. It’s a big trend in the produce industry now.”

Bags constitute about 25% of retail sales for Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.

George Wooten, president, said demand is strong.

“It’s still growing and is one of our fastest-growing segments,” he said.

“Not everyone is on the bandwagon with it, though. Many people are still using bulk sweet potatoes. We have retailers that are using maybe five different styles of packaging from us, the bulk, 3- and 5-pound bags, microwaveable, steamers and four-pack trays. People are beginning to pick them up and are merchandising these items in different ways.”

The percentage of bagged sales is relatively low for Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, Idaho Falls, Idaho, said Jeff Scramlin, the Raleigh, N.C.-based director of business development for sweet potatoes.

“It’s 5% to 10%, and that’s on the high side,” he said.

“I’d like to see it increase though. Traditionally, people are used to picking sweet potatoes off the shelf in bulk. As a matter of convenience, our company is doing bags on the reds, yellows and whites, so why not offer that packaging in sweet potatoes?”

The percentage of sweet potatoes Burch Farms ships in bags grows every year.

“Nearly a third of what I ship to retail customers is in bags, up from 5% several years ago,” said Jimmy Burch, co-owner. “Bags get a pretty good turn rate.”

Demand is so strong for bags that Burch Farms installed a new bagger last year and packs from six bagging machines.