However, Johnson said he doesn’t think sweet potatoes affected white potato sales.
Sweet potatoes are another starch option that can add some excitement to a plate, he said.
Johnson said the recession might have helped sales of sweet potatoes because some consumers ate at home instead of dining out.
In 2011, sweet potato retail sales dollars rose by almost 1% and pounds sold at retail grew by about 2%, he said.
Jimmy Burch Sr., partner, Burch Farms, Faison, N.C., also said sweet potato sales are strong.
“We had the biggest crop in our lives last year and sold it all,” he said. “It was the largest crop in North Carolina history.”
Johnson said he’s found that many retailers promote sweet potatoes only at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Instead, he encourages retailers to promote throughout the year.
Putting sweet potatoes on sale is one of the best ways to sell more sweet potatoes at retail, Wooten said.
Pricing them at 99 cents a pound works, but so does simply drawing attention to them with ads, Johnson said.
A price discount can increase sales by 5-10%, he said.
“It doesn’t need to be a deep discount,” Johnson said. “It’s just a reminder to put them on the plate.”
One successful promotion that Wada did in partnership with a retailer involved displaying 5-pound bags of Dole russet potatoes in a bin with 3-pound bags of Dole sweet potatoes, said Shane Watt, director of sweet potatoes for Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group.
The promotion ran in April in many states and helped sell more sweets, Watt said.
Other ways to drive up sales include cross-promoting with marshmallows or with spices, such as ground cinnamon.
Some cross-promotions result in sales increases of 15%, Johnson said.