Company banks on organic sweet potatoes - The Packer

Company banks on organic sweet potatoes

03/08/2011 12:28:18 PM
Jim Offner

Sandi Kronick says she is counting on organic sweet potatoes to become more than an easily overlooked niche category.

There is reason, she adds, to think that it will be.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth,” she said, adding that her company, Eastern Carolina Organics, in Pittsboro, N.C., works with regional producers.

“Our growth has much to do with the growth and volume that producers are putting in as much as it has to do with demand. We’re limited by what local producers are growing, but our sales have grown tremendously with organic sweet potatoes.”

The company was launched in 2004, and it has seen steady growth, particularly in the retail sector, said Kronick, the chief executive officer.

“Our biggest markets are the natural and organic retailers and distributors, but others are more conventional,” she said.

What draws them to organic sweet potatoes?

“I think the customers that we sell to might source conventional, as well, but they certainly need to stock organic,” Kronick said. “But what I think possibly sets us apart from other suppliers is the relationship value.”

Organics sometimes can bounce around the price scale, but sweet potatoes don’t follow that pattern as much as other items do, Kronick said.

“Our prices are extremely consistent when it comes to sweet potatoes,” she said. “It’s a pleasure to sell sweet potatoes because of how simple it is, compared with all the other products we represent. That being said, our product quality is consistent, the pricing is solid and it’s a year-round available item.”

The recession wiped out much of the price premium on organic sweet potatoes, but the economic downturn did not hinder sales of the product, Kronick said.

“We had some varieties several years ago we were charging a very, very high premium on,” she said. “In late 2008, when the credit crunch hit, our largest customers were really feeling the pressure. At that point, the only change we really saw was that super-high window on certain varieties of the organic sweet potatoes had to come down closer to your beauregard standard varieties.”

The big premium disappeared, she said.

“But the volume was still solid on your standard varieties, as well as your specialties,” she said.

“No one wanted to offend customers in the supermarket with a super-high price. But the availability of those varieties has stabilized since then and we don’t necessarily need that premium anymore because of the quantity we’re producing on it now, as opposed to back then.”

Other than that, the sales of organic sweet potatoes have been left untouched by the downturn, she added.

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