“The growth for us in organic sweet potatoes has been tremendous,” she said. “Our company overall grew 50% in 2010 over 2009 and sweet potatoes are our biggest crop.”
The company continues to bring in new customers, Kronick said.
“That one item is a real anchor,” she said. “We’ve been able to partner with the large-volume farms that have very consistent quality and availability and can compete on price.”
Kronick acknowledges that organic sweet potatoes remain a relative blip in the total marketplace.
“Based on some of the larger farms we work with that do mostly conventional, organic is about 1% of their operations,” she said.
Foodservice business mainly is with some universities and distributors, “but it’s not very significant,” Kronick said.
“Certainly for those foodservice distributors we sell to, they’re not coming to us for the organic sweet potatoes — they’re coming to us for specialty greens and things like that,” she said.
“I want to say foodservice is really looking for organic sweet potatoes. I don’t think they find that to be sexy enough to make it worth the price premiums over conventional. As much as I’d love it to be otherwise — I mean, you know, organic sweet potato french fries or sweet potato tater tots would be a very good thing in the system, especially with what’s going on with the schools’ food policy — I’m not seeing anything.”
Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Smithfield-based North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, said organic product is getting attention.
“There’s definite interest in the organic market,” Johnson-Langdon said. “How that actually winds up playing out into sales, I think a lot of people would think the perception of organic being better is there, whether it is scientifically based or not. I see it as being a part of overall marketing.”