Shippers find success in value-added products

08/28/2012 05:22:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Value-added sweet potato products are growing at a faster rate than bulk sales for a number of Southern grower-shippers.

Nixa, Mo.-based Market Fresh Produce LLC has had great customer response to the 3-pound bag it introduced earlier this year, said Mike Kemp, vice president of brand development.

“Consumers love the packaging, and retailers like the incremental sales,” Kemp said.

Most value-added products are seeing bigger sales gains than the sweet potato category in general, he said.

“Bagged sales are increasing rapidly as well as the individually wrapped and ready-to-microwave products,” Kemp said.

Bulk sweet potato sales continue to grow for Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce, but not as fast as value-added, president George Wooten said.

Individual microwaveables, steamer bags and 3- and 5-pound consumer bags are among the top performers for Wayne E. Bailey, Wooten said.

The steamer bags are the fastest-growing value-added item for the company, he said.

Coming in second is Bailey’s line of cubed sweet potatoes, sweet potato sticks and other fresh-cut items, packed in both the company’s George label and a Green Giant label, Wooten said.

Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms Inc. doesn’t process and pack fresh-cut sweet potatoes itself, but the company does provide product to others for value-added applications, co-owner Jimmy Burch Sr. said.

Demand for value-added is strong, Burch said, whether it’s cubed, diced or another variety of fresh-cut.

“It’s a growing category,” he said. “People want ‘quick and easy.’”

Despite the growth, Burch said he likely will stay out of the business himself while continuing to sell product to Prime Cuts and other fresh-cut providers.

But Burch Farms is tapping into consumers’ demand for convenience through the growth of its bagged sales, Burch said.

“The 3-pound bag is getting bigger and bigger all the time,” he said.

Burch Farms plans to install a bagging machine by October to keep up with demand for 3-pounders and other bagged sweet potatoes, Burch said.

A new bag will accompany the bagger, Burch said.

The high-graphic bag will be modeled on one popular among citrus shippers for packing minneolas, he said.



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