Seasonal promotions propel sweet potato sales in retail stores, and multiple promotions are even better, marketers say.
The North Carolina name adds promotional weight, as well, they say.
“We are seeing retailers adding new and additional varieties to their sweet potato displays,” said Norman Brown, Raleigh, N.C.-based sales director for the sweet potato segment of Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group.
That strategy is helping to create renewed interest and excitement to the category, Brown said.
“More and more consumers today are looking for something different and new, and adding new sweet potato varieties is a good way to support sales growth,” he said.
Also giving the category a boost is that an increasing number of retailers are recognizing that they can promote North Carolina sweet potatoes beyond the traditional Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter pushes, Brown said.
“While those are still peak sales times for sweet potatoes, they are gaining on year-round popularity, so off-cycle promotions and ad circular support will support sales,” he said.
At the Benson-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, activity on social media has been brisk, particularly in the realm of recipes, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director.
“While we still do some traditional media, our (focuses) are weekly postings on Facebook (more than 15,000 likes), Twitter (almost 1,000 followers), Pinterest (close to 500 followers), YouTube and, coming soon, on Instagram,” she said.
Much of the promotion emphasis is on the product’s nutritional values, said Jimmy Burch, co-owner of Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms.
“It’s just driving it completely,” he said.
Schools are picking it up as well, he said.
“And the french fry deal is absolutely exploding.”
Each retail customer goes its own way on promotions — a departure from past strategies, said George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. in Chadbourn, N.C.
“You can come up with point-of-purchase materials they don’t allow you to use and come up with displays that you put your product in, and they won’t let you have something on the floor or they differ on how they want to use it,” he said.
A retailer might have its own loyalty card program that includes sweet potatoes, Wooten said, citing an example.
“If you have a card, maybe you can buy potatoes at 59 cents instead of 99 cents, or you can buy 10 for $10 or something like that,” he said.
That latter melds well with microwavable potatoes that are sold individually, Wooten said.
Convenience has become a strong promotional strategy, said Thomas Joyner, general manager of Nashville, N.C.-based Nash Produce Co.
“Ideas and products that are setting the pace seem to be more consumer-friendly packaging such as microwavable steamables and bags,” he said.
There also are promotions with direct ties to health campaigns. In 2013, for instance, Wilson, N.C.-based Vick Family Farms got involved in the fight against breast cancer, said Charlotte Vick, partner.
“In October, for our Pure Gold brand, we changed the color of the box to pink and donated a portion of proceeds to a Mother’s Day Mammogram Program for ladies in Wilson who can’t afford to have mammograms,” Vick said.
The company is doing the same thing this year, only on a bigger scale, she said.
“So far, pretty much all of my domestic buyers have been onboard, compared to two last year,” she said.
Last year, Vick Family Farms and its partners raised about $5,000, Vick said.
“This year, I’m hoping to double that or even more,” she said.
“It is not a big promotion. I know some of the breast cancer awareness groups raise hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. For us, for 1,300 acres of sweet potatoes, I think it does a good job, if it’s not as big.”