Sweet potato business is booming, and especially in North Carolina.

“We produce over 40% of the country’s sweet potatoes,” said Laurie Wood, marketing specialist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Raleigh.

“We are trying to educate the consumer. Sweet potatoes aren’t just for the holiday time. They are available year-round.”

The sweet potato industry is in a growth mode, said George Wooten, president and owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.

Consumers are beginning to understand that sweet potatoes are healthy and good for them, Wooten said.

Wooten also said sweet potatoes have become more popular and the industry has grown because of trusted word of mouth.

The promotions the sweet potato commission is doing seem to be helping the industry because “people seem to be eating more sweet potatoes,” said Jimmy Burch Sr., partner in Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C.

“This is the second year Lisa Shively has helped with a sweet potato promotion,” Wood said.

Shively is a cookbook writer from Eden, N.C., who last year wrote a cookbook called the “Fat Little Sweet Potato Cookbook,” Wood said.

“We’ve done some women’s shows, like the Southern Women’s Show, where she would feature sweet potato on the stage, do a cooking demo,” she said.

Shively’s cookbook, which contains 100 recipes using sweet potatoes, is available through her Web site, www.cookingwithlisa.com.

There have also been some promotions at festivals, too, Wood said.

“That’s the main thing we are doing with the sweet potato commission,” Wood said.

Brenda Oglesby, sales manager for Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C., is on the promotions committee for the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.

The commission is working on “Start Sweet,” a diabetes outreach program, working with media and sending out press releases to daily and regional newspapers.

In 2010, the commission also plans to distribute recipes and photos nationally to suburban, daily and weekly papers.
It will “probably secure about 300 placements, with 6 million readers,” Oglesby said.

The commission is using “merchandising activities with North Carolina point-of-sale material and recipe leaflets,” she said.

The commission is also doing a blogging contest for the second year for sweet potato recipes, Oglesby said.

The blogger recipe contest can be found at www.ncsweetpotatoes.com, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Benson-based North Carolina SweetPotato Commission.

The commission has been using the Web more.

“We have redesigned our Web site to include promotional programs, downloadable teaching materials and several video clips featuring Mr. Food,” Johnson-Langdon said.

The commission also has a sponsored blog at www.sweetbytesblog.blogspot.com.

New York-based public relations firm Lewis & Neale handles 90% of the marketing programs for The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, Johnson-Langdon said. The remaining 10% are handled by commission staff, she said.

The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission is trying to get its message to children in grades 3-6 through its Carolina Sweet Potato Investigation classroom materials.

The program can be downloaded at www.ncsweetpotatoes.com.

The commission is trying to reach 20- to 40-year-olds through Web-based marketing and social networking, Johnson-Langdon said.

The commission is also reaching out to overseas markets.

“The United Kingdom is strong and growing. Western Europe is an emerging market for North Carolina sweet potatoes. We have conducted two small marketing campaigns in Germany, and another is planned for spring 2010,” Johnson-Langdon said.