Sweet potato sales continue to flourish

08/26/2011 02:48:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

In the U.S., per capita usage of sweet potatoes has grown steadily for the past six years, and grower-shippers say they expect the trend to continue in the foreseeable future.

Annual U.S. per-capita use of commercially produced fresh and processing sweet potatoes, which is used as a proxy for consumption, is forecast to reach 6.4 pounds for 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported in June.

In 2010, per capita usage was 6.3 pounds, a big jump over 2009’s 5.2 pounds and a significant increase over 2005’s 4.5 pounds.

Sales to both retail and foodservice sectors continue to increase, as do sales to the processing market and in overseas markets, said George Wooten, president and partner, Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.

Mac Johnson, chief executive officer and president, Category Partners LLC, Denver, agreed.

For the 52-week period ending July 17, pounds of sweet potatoes purchased had increased by 1.7%, he said.

The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2011 reported that 44% of its sample of 1,009 U.S. households purchased sweet potatoes in the previous year.

Households earning more than $100,000 were more likely to have purchased them, with 59% saying they had done so.

Age of the primary shopper and geographical location might be factors in purchases.

Fifty-six percent of those 59 or older reported buying sweet potatoes. More than half of the households in the Northeast reported purchasing sweet potatoes, Fresh Trends reported.

The market for frozen sweet potato products is “skyrocketing,” Wooten said.

Fresh-cut sweet potatoes are taking longer to catch on, but Wayne E. Bailey and its foodservice division, George Foods, Pembroke, N.C., sell fresh-cut sweets to retail and foodservice.

Demand for sweet potatoes in the processing industry is growing, with companies marketing more cooked products containing sweet potatoes, Wooten said.

“The industrial market is growing faster than ever,” he said.

“The biggest increase is in the frozen and processed market.”

Growing demand for processed and frozen sweet potato products is good for the fresh market, Wooten said.

Having sweet potatoes available in various forms helps keep them in consumers’ minds, he said.

Even as U.S. consumers face tough economic times, the sweet potato industry has continued to grow, Wooten said.

More consumers may have replaced white potatoes with sweet potatoes in their diets.

Such a switch, he said, could be due to consumers’ recognition of sweet potatoes’ healthful and flavorful attributes, as well as the fact that they are priced similarly to white potatoes.


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