Courtesy North Carolina Sweet Potato ComissionThe North Carolina Sweet Potato Commision is promoting new sweet potato recipes this spring in their “52 Ways To Love Sweet Potatoes” promotion. This recipe for southwestern stuffed sweet potatoes is an example of their featured entrees. North Carolina’s sweet potato industry plans to focus its marketing efforts on the foodservice sector.
As baked sweet potatoes are now common items in steakhouses, the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission is working to introduce sweet potatoes into fast-casual and quick-service operations.
The Benson-based organization is studying the logistical challenges foodservice operators face in featuring sweet potatoes on their menus, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director.
A study the group commissioned last year showed the largest percentage of consumers prefer to eat sweet potatoes baked but not necessarily whole-baked, Johnson-Langdon said.
Many prefer baked or roasted chunks tossed in olive oil or prepared in other baked ways, she said.
Knowing baked is the consumer preference should help the commission better approach marketing to the correct target, Johnson-Langdon said.
“What the study shows us is where the sweet potato is on U.S. restaurant menus. (We) are in what is known as early stages of proliferation,” she said.
Sweet potatoes are now moving from the kitchens of independent operators into the large chain menus, she said.
“The growth there is in fries, but the other thing is that most diners prefer baked and would order more if they’re offered in different ways. It’s a key point we plan to be talking about with our operators.”
Part of the problem with foodservice is that many casual dining or quick-service operators don’t prepare food in the back kitchens while others do, Johnson-Langdon said.
Sweet potatoes must accommodate the equipment in the kitchens’ configurations, she said.
Johnson-Langdon said the goal of introducing more sweet potatoes into foodservice outlets is lofty and one that will require much time and effort.
To help promote sweet potato consumption throughout the year, the commission this spring plans to introduce a program called “52 Ways To Love Sweet Potatoes.”
The program will include print and online material and recipes to help shoppers find interesting ways to incorporate sweet potatoes in their home dining, Johnson-Langdon said.
While the commission has invested in retail point-of-sale material, because of budget concerns, it may not fund such programs this year, Johnson-Langdon said.
As the foodservice survey showed consumer describe sweet potatoes as “flavorful, tasty, good and healthy and nutritious,” the commission continues to promote the health attributes of sweet potatoes.