Sweet potato growers and shippers say they know what’s good for the sweet potato industry isn’t necessarily good for the sweet potato itself.
They’re speaking of microwaving, which has turned convenience into a shrink-wrapped revenue stream.
“It’s growing, but I don’t know why,” said Jimmy Burch, owner of Burch Farms in Faison, N.C.
Burch said microwaving is not the ideal preparation method for sweet potatoes.
“It’s a horrible way to cook them. They’re so much better in a regular oven,” he said.
Burch Farms, like many other grower-shippers, nevertheless sells microwaveable sweet potatoes.
“We sell them literally by the tractor-trailerload, all shrink-wrapped. You do what people want,” he said.
The microwave phenomenon, which took hold more than a decade ago, caught Benny Graves by surprise, as well.
“A long time ago, I saw my first shrink-wrapped sweet potato, and I said, ‘Why would you do this?’” said Graves, executive secretary of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council.
Sales of the product quickly answered his question, Graves said.
“Just because I wouldn’t do it, I learned real quick that’s a heck of a marketing niche,” he said.
Now, microwavable sweet potatoes are standard fare, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Benson-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.
“We are a mobile society and we need things to be quick, easy and taste good, and the sweet potato hits all that,” she said.
Microwavable product has been a major driver of sales volume, said Thomas Joyner, president of Nash Produce in Nashville, N.C.
“Convenience is the driver, because The (consumer) can pick up a bag and microwave in eight or nine minutes,” he said.
Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc. in Faison, said his company offers a 1 1/2-pound bags with five or six petites.
“It’s really working great in some locations,” he said.
That microwavable packs can serve one diner or many only builds their value, Joyner said.
“Everybody gets one, and you don’t worry about waste or clean-up,” he said.
Matt Garber, partner with Iota, La.-based Garber Farms, agreed.
“They seem to be a popular item for consumer preparation at home,” he said.
Microwavable sweet potatoes have been strong performers for Matthews Ridgeview Farms in Wynne, Ark., said Kim Matthews, co-owner of the fifth-generation operation.
“That category has grown every year since I started doing it, and this is our fifth year with the micros,” Matthews said.
The company markets single microwaveable sweet potatoes from 7 ounces to 12 ounces, she said.