While sweet potato growers, shippers and marketers are enjoying a sales boost due to the high nutritional value of their product, Eastern Carolina Organics says its sweet potatoes enjoy an extra marketing advantage.
“Mainly, the fact that it’s organic (gives an edge),” said Trace Ramsey, project and production manager for the shipper, which moved from its old home in Pittsboro, N.C., to larger quarters in Durham, N.C., Jan. 1.
Sweet potatoes comprise more than 25% of Eastern Carolina Organics’ product volume, with the covington variety leading the way, Ramsey said.
The aura of organics is significant to some buyers, particularly Whole Foods, Ramsey said.
“The organic side of agriculture is based on taking care of the soil. It’s a different way of growing for rebuilding soil health,” he said.
Organic sweet potato sales patterns have pretty much followed the trajectory of organic produce sales in general, Ramsey said.
The company, which ships product from a handful of organic growers in North Carolina, shipped about 250,000 pounds of covingtons last year — up from 240 pounds five years ago — as that variety replaces the beauregard.
Organic production in North Carolina is not difficult, Ramsey said.
“Especially in our area, there are growers getting into organic tobacco, organic sweet potatoes, organic cucumbers and organic squash as rotational crops,” he said.
There remains a price premium on organic product, Ramsey said.
On Feb. 28, the price for a 40-pound box of organic covingtons was $18, which was as much as $4 more than some conventional product was fetching.
The company stays competitive by limiting its distribution area to the East Coast,
“We just try to keep up with our North Carolina freight to the East Coast and Georgia. That keeps us busy,” Ramsey said.
Some sweet potato shippers don’t handle organic product. Others offer it on a limited basis for targeted market segments.