Sweet potato packers and shippers say bags are the biggest trend for the category, with value-added offerings gaining all the time.
“When I started in 1975, we only packed No. 1 sweet potatoes in 40-pound boxes. We didn’t even really pack No. 2s. But the demand for new pack sizes and products has really escalated over the years,” said George Wooten Jr., owner of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.
Jeff Scramlin, director of business development of the Raleigh, N.C. office of Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, said he thinks the new packaging options come as a result of increased consumer demand.
“Several years ago, all you saw was a bulk display of sweet potatoes, but as the popularity of sweets has increased we are seeing a growing interest in bags,” he said.
The trend isn’t just limited to consumer bags, however.
“Overall, we’re seeing a lot more packaging, with bags, shrink wraps, and many other ways of presenting product in the fresh market place,” said Benny Graves, executive director of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council.
Kim Matthews, co-owner of Matthews Ridgeview Farms, Wynne, Ark., said specialized packaging helps engage and attract more consumers at retail.
“We do see sub-niches wanting more packaging sizes or styles. It gives the consumer more options. What works for one consumer may not work for the next so giving them options appeals to them,” she said.
Wooten said sweet potato packaging tends to mirror trends in the potato category even though the two products aren’t related.
“We do compete for that side of the plate so a lot of their packaging makes sense for us as well,” he said.
In fact, Wooten said within the microwave product line, sweet potatoes are doing a good job of picking up their share of the market.
“Sweet potatoes are really leading that category,” he said.
Still, bins are the standard.
“Bins are still the main way for the year-round supply of potatoes. And one thing I like about those is that the consumer can select what size they like,” said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C.
Precythe said innovation is important for the future.
“We have a few other things we’re working on, trying to be creative and help consumers use more sweet potatoes in a faster, more convenient way,” he said.