A seemingly endless stream of restaurants — including some of the country’s biggest chains — adding sweet potatoes to their menus continues to drive strong foodservice category growth.
Nixa, Mo.-based Market Fresh Produce LLC has seen foodservice growth tracking closely to retail growth, said Mike Kemp, vice president of brand development.
For Kemp, a recent piece of sweet potato-related foodservice news stands out.
“The biggest rollout has to be the addition of baked sweet potatoes to Wendy’s offerings,” he said.
Wendy’s in May began offering sweet potatoes baked fresh to order and sourced from North Carolina and Mississippi. They were available for a limited time and no longer are on the chain’s menu.
Wendy’s isn’t the only chain whose purchase of sweet potatoes is driving foodservice category growth, said Jimmy Burch Sr., co-owner of Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C.
Other national fast-food chains using sweet potatoes include Burger King and Chick-fil-A, he said.
Foodservice is definitely outperforming retail when it comes to sweet potatoes, Burch said.
“The fresh market is flat, but people are eating more and more sweet potatoes when they go to restaurants.”
Burch continues to see the evidence with his own eyes, regardless of where his travels take him.
“I was in New York (recently), and all the restaurants there have them,” he said.
Kim Matthews, co-owner of Wynne, Ark.-based Matthews Ridgeview Farms, said a significant amount of that higher foodservice demand has carried over into retail.
People who try sweet potato fries at a restaurant are much more likely to experiment with sweet potatoes at home, she said. Once consumers are exposed to the versatility of sweet potatoes, interest in all channels increases.
“People are becoming more educated,” Matthews said. “It’s become an everyday product instead of just a holiday product. They’re way more accessible than they’ve ever been.”
Quick-service restaurants aren’t the only drivers of strong foodservice growth.
Bakers, mashed, sweet potato casseroles and other dishes are among non-fry options that are becoming more popular in foodservice channels of all varieties, Matthews said.
“I just went on a cruise, and on two different nights they served sweet potato dishes,” she said. “And it’s a Disney cruise, so hopefully Disney will get behind them.”