Restaurants lean on sweet potatoes for more menu flair

08/26/2011 02:55:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Sweet potatoes can now be found in beachside food shacks as well as steakhouses, but growth in sales requires dependable supplies of the vegetable.

Maintaining a steady year-round supply of sweet potatoes is crucial to foodservice buyers. If they commit to putting an item on their menus, they need to know it will be available at all times.

About 55% of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.’s business is with foodservice buyers, said George Wooten, president and partner.

In addition to its sweet potato acreage in North Carolina, Wayne E. Bailey Produce contracts with multiple growers in Mississippi to provide a continuous supply, he said.

Wayne E. Bailey’s potatoes are electronically sized in Mississippi and North Carolina.

Both Wooten and Jimmy Burch Sr., partner, Burch Farms, Faison, N.C., said sales to foodservice buyers have remained steady despite the recession.

The sweet potato fry is especially popular with restaurant buyers.

“The sweet potato french fry is on fire,” Burch said.

Many restaurants are serving those now, including a shack at a North Carolina beach he visited in August, he said.

“The main thing that drove sweet potato sales in foodservice was your steakhouse-type restaurants,” Wooten said.

He listed Logan’s Roadhouse Inc., Lone Star Steakhouse, and Texas Roadhouse Inc. restaurant chains as examples.

The online menu for Nashville, Tenn.-based Logan’s Roadhouse lists Logan’s Sweet Potato, Loaded Sweet Potato (with marshmallows and caramel sauce), and Sweet Potato Fries as sides. Plano, Texas-based Lone Star Steakhouse and Louisville, Ky.-based Texas Roadhouse offer baked sweet potatoes, according to their online menus.

Some high-end restaurants also have sweet potatoes on their menus, Wooten said.

The trend soon may extend to fast-food and quick-service restaurants.

“Casual dining hasn’t yet picked up on it yet,” Wooten said. “I think they’ll be coming along.”



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