Sweet potato use in the summer months has increased due to their rising popularity in grilling recipes, such as this one from the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.
Sweet potato use in the summer months has increased due to their rising popularity in grilling recipes, such as this one from the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.

Promoting sweet potatoes still is often based around holiday use, but growers want to expand the peak season by offering promotions throughout the year.

“As the demand for sweet potatoes continues to grow, sweet potatoes are no longer seen as an item to only promote at those times. Consumers are making sweet potatoes a regular item in their meal planning all year long,” said Mike Kemp, business analyst for Market Fresh Produce, Nixa, Mo.

Year-round sales increase

“Ads usually run during the holidays to promote sweet potatoes at that time of year, and we do promotions for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but we also run promotions with chain stores at different times of the year,” said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C.

Others agree year-round sales are growing.

“Twenty years ago, our company sales around Thanksgiving were probably 35% of our total business. Now, it’s only 20%,” said George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Inc, Chadbourn, N.C.

In fact, Wooten says the company sees good demand in July and August.

“Because of their versatility, summer is a big push for sweet potatoes. Grilling is especially popular with sweet potatoes,” he said.

The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission also has focused on summer grilling promotions.

“Sure, we love them in pies, but they are also wonderful paired with savory ingredients, so we partnered with Elizabeth Karmel, grilling expert and executive chef of Hill Country BBQ in N.Y., to develop some tasty summer grilling recipes in hopes that food editors would give sweet potatoes some love in their summer issues,” Cristy-Lucie Alvarado, representative for the commission, said in an e-mail.

In addition, Wooten says sweet potato consumption in the summer has gone up because of the increased offerings at restaurants.

“It used to be that if you weren’t at home, you weren’t eating sweet potatoes, but now you can eat them on vacation in restaurants,” he said.

Heart-healthy promos

Precythe says he doesn’t think price cuts are the way to promote sweet potatoes.

“In my opinion, that doesn’t sell more potatoes. The retail market generally stays around 79 cents or 99 cents a pound,” he said.

Charles Walker, executive secretary of the Columbia, S.C.-based U.S. Sweet Potato Council, thinks promoting nutrition could be better taken advantage of.

“We still have the heart check mark, but I’d like to see more shippers use it to their advantage,” Walker said.

Walker only knows of three or four growers that use the check mark on their packaging or promotional materials, and while it might prove effective for those shippers, the industry isn’t getting the benefits it could see.

“For the industry as a whole, with not having more shippers use it, we’re not getting the effectiveness we could get out of that,” he said.

Still, he thinks it’s a good marketing technique.

“I’m very happy we have it,” he said.

The council also works with Produce for Better Health for promotional purposes.

“They do nice recipes and have sweet potatoes featured on their website,” Walker said.