Whether they hang their marketing message on nutritional content, convenience or even color, sweet potato growers and shippers say there never have been more choices in how they can market their product.
Marketers offered their product as a dietary alternative to white potatoes during the Atkins Diet craze about a decade ago.
They say that approach still gets plenty of traction.
“Sweet potatoes are still riding a pretty good trend with people tuning into diet and nutrition,” said Jimmy Burch, owner of Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms.
The trend shows no sign of slowing, Burch said.
“It’s becoming an everyday staple,” he said.
Graves pointed to an economic advantage over other foods.
“Meats have gone up. Sweet potatoes have not really gone up that much, so the value is there and people are picking up on them,” he said.
To Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Benson-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, the chief allure to sweet potatoes is their flavor.
There’s a versatility component, too, Langdon said.
“You can have them 12 months out of the year and do everything with them, from appetizers to desserts,” she said.
Convenience is another important sales hook, said George Wooten, owner of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.
“One thing we’ve got going is our steamer bag, a 1 1/2-pound U.S. No. 1 petite,” he said of a product that contains six sweet triple-washed potatoes in a microwaveable bag.
Preparation takes about eight minutes, he said.
“It keeps building momentum,” he said.
Wooten said the product is available under his company banner, George Foods, as well as Green Giant label.
“For most people that have been using it, sales are phenomenal and profit margin is really, really good,” he said.
Identity also is important at Wynne, Ark.-based family-operated Matthews Ridgeview Farms, said Kim Matthews, who grows on 2,000 acres with her husband, Terris.
The company’s Fifth Generation label on bags feature the couple’s two girls, Jaylie, 13; and Taycie, 11. The girls are the family’s fifth-generation in the operation, Kim Matthews said.
“That’s our No. 1 logo,” she said.
The convenience of the product stands out, she said.
“If you’re looking at metrics to be successful at the store level and the customer level and the consumer level at home, it meets all criteria,” she said.
Convenience also sells at Nashville, N.C.-based Nash Produce, said Thomas Joyner, president.
“I think the more consumer-friendly packaging you can have the better,” he said, noting that his company offers 2-, 3- and 5-pound bags.
Cooking shows and food magazines are helping to spread information about all of the sweet potatoes’ assets, which facilitates marketing the product, said Duane Hutton, manager of Yagi Bros. Produce Inc. in Livingston, Calif.
“There’s a lot of interest with all types of chefs, as well as food consumers, in restaurants and at home,” Hutton said.
Quick-service venues are providing additional exposure to the product, Hutton said.
“Sonic and Burger King are good examples there,” he said.
It’s not just happening across the U.S., said Stewart Precythe, president and CEO of Southern Produce Distributors Inc. in Faison.
“Every country in Europe is eating sweet potatoes,” said Precythe, whose company started shipping product to the United Kingdom in the mid-1980s and has seen interest spread across the continent over the years.
The California Sweet Potato Council is picking up on numerous themes in marketing the product, said Sarah Alvernaz, a board member with the council and general manager of Livingston-based California Sweet Potato Growers.
“That’s one of our taglines for the new marketing program for the council, that California sweet potatoes are a natural fit for restaurants, breakfast, main dish, sides and snacks,” she said.