The single-serving, plastic-wrapped microwavable sweet potato isn’t so hot these days, as the discussion about sustainable packaging gets louder.
Unlike more delicate fresh produce, sweet potatoes can be handled and sit in retailer bins without any wrapping at all without risking increased shrinkage. So, in that sense, the most sustainable packaging for a sweet potato would be none at all.
But some customers still want it, so companies continue to sell it.
“Consumers still want the convenience as much as they’re trying to be socially aware and lower their carbon footprint. At the end of the day, they’ll still grab that,” Jordan Barta, potato grower relations and sales manager at Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce.
The company has a Microbaker, an individually wrapped sweet potato in a material that can be heated in the microwave.
But, “it’s honestly becoming less popular, because people are becoming more concerned with single-use plastic, so we’re thinking that’s not as much the way to go now,” Barta said.
A convenience product for at least the past decade, the single, wrapped microwaveable sweet potato is offered in different versions at many companies, still — even if 40-pound cartons of loose sweet potatoes and 2-, 3-, and 5-pound bags are better sellers these days.
Progressive will change those standard sizes to create premium packs and smaller carton sizes if the customer wants it.
Matthews Ridgeview Farms in Wynne, Ark., offers the industry standard 40-pound box of loose potatoes, as well as grab-and-go 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-pound bags. And yes, microwavable steamers of petite sweet potatoes and larger single-serving, individually wrapped microwavable ones are on the table too.
In Bruce, Miss., Marshall Bailey, partner of Bruce Sweet Potatoes, said his 1.5-pound bags are selling better than years past, and the same is true for the steaming microwavable bags.
“Everything is just customer driven, and we’re staying cognizant of the sustainable issue,” Bailey said.
Like the other companies, Nashville, N.C.-based Nash Produce offers 40-pound boxes of loose potatoes, mesh bags of varying weights, steamable sweets, and individually wrapped microwaveable potatoes.
“These options offer a range of convenience for both family and individual consumers’ meals,” said Rebecca Scott, grower accounting and marketing director.
Industry veterans have noted that sometimes plastic, especially if it’s reusable or recyclable, is better than paper or loose produce that can contribute to wasted food and shrinkage because it gets damaged.
“No one really knows what good sustainable packaging is, and there are so many ways to label something environmentally sustainable,” Barta said.
“We, as an industry, don’t know yet what the answer is.”