European demand for sweet potatoes rises

10/12/2011 09:50:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Japan and Latin America also are in Southern’s sights.

“They’ll be over the whole world before long,” Precythe said.

More and more North Carolina sweet potatoes are finding their way into export markets, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Smithfield-based North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.

“We’re seeing more going to Western Europe, and more to Canada than in years past,” Johnson-Langdon said.

For Europe, the appeal of North Carolina sweet potatoes is clear.

“It’s new,” Johnson-Langdon said. “They don’t have a history with it.”

Sales are particularly strong in Great Britain, Johnson-Langdon said, with Germany gaining ground fast.

Marketing overseas

In August, Johnson-Langdon traveled to Germany with a marketing official from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for promotional events in the country.

The commission has even set up a German-language North Carolina sweet potato website.

The promotions included tastings in not only German retailers but also department stores, Johnson-Langdon said.

Johnson-Langdon said the commission will hold similar promotions in Germany in 2012, too.

She said she makes one or two overseas visits a year to promote North Carolina sweet potatoes abroad.

North Carolina shippers don’t export as many sweet potatoes to Mexico, Johnson-Langdon said, because of the proximity of other sweet potato-producing states, such as Louisiana and Mississippi, to our southern neighbor.

North Carolina, with about 20% of sweet potatoes going to export markets, has found a nice balance between domestic and export supplies, said George Wooten, owner and chief executive officer of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.

“The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission has done a great job promoting North Carolina sweet potatoes as the sweet potatoes of choice,” Wooten said.

The United Kingdom, continental Europe and Canada remain strong export markets for North Carolina shippers, he said.

“I spoke to somebody recently who has relatives in Italy, and they were saying they can now find sweet potatoes in the grocery store year-round,” Wooten said.

Particularly because they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, for Europeans, sweet potatoes are not a seasonal item, Wooten said.

In Canada, Wayne E. Bailey has an edge because of the variety of packs and value-added items it provides, Wooten said.

Dunn, N.C.-based Godwin Produce Co. doesn’t export sweet potatoes, but David Godwin, the company’s owner, said exports were up industrywide.


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