Sweet potato bags gain attention, sales

Shippers say consumers like the convenience of picking up bagged sweet potatoes, and the 3-pound bag seems to be just the right size.

Sales of bagged sweet potatoes are picking up, said George Wooten, president and partner, Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.

The company packs 1.5-, 2-, 3-, and 5-pound bags. It also can pack 10-pound bags, but there isn"t enough demand for it to do so, Wooten said.

About 42% of Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group"s sales of Dole Food Co.-brand sweet potatoes are to retail, and the majority is packed in 3-pound bags, said Shane Watt, director of sweet potatoes.

The increase in 3-pound bag sales is indicative of sweet potatoes" growing popularity, said Mac Johnson, chief executive officer and president, Category Partners LLC.

Until recently, most sweets were loose at retail, but shoppers now are looking to buy larger quantities in conveniently sized bags, Johnson said.

Jimmy Burch Sr., partner, Burch Farms, Faison, N.C., said sales of the 3-pound bag have doubled in the last three years.

In response to the strong demand, Burch Farms added a new bagging machine last fall.

In early August, Wayne E. Bailey"s foodservice division, George Foods, Pembroke, N.C., began using new packaging, Wooten said.

The packages carry the American Heart Association"s heart-check mark, which indicates certification by the association as a heart-healthy food.

George Foods sweet potatoes and U.S.-grown orange-flesh sweet potatoes are on the association"s online list of approved foods. Eventually, Wayne E. Bailey also plans to ship Green Giant Fresh-brand bags with the heart-check mark.

About eight months ago, George Foods added "triple washed" to its Green Giant Fresh-brand bags, Wooten said.

Many grower-shippers offer individually wrapped microwaveable sweet potatoes.

Garber Farms, Iota, La., has done so for six years, said Wayne Garber, partner.

Demand for the product has leveled off in the past two years, after growing the first four, he said.

Demand is growing for individually wrapped, microwaveable sweet potatoes, along with bags, from Matthews Ridgeview Farms, Wynne, Ark., said Kim Matthews, partner.

Wayne E. Bailey ships 1 ½-pound microwaveable bags of U.S. No.1 petite sweet potatoes from its Chadbourn facility. The bag sells under the George Foods and Green Giant Fresh brands. It is available year round.

The item is growing in popularity, Wooten said, and his company has received good feedback from consumers.

"It"s not the biggest item we have in our opportunities, but it"s something that"s working for us," Wooten said.

Johnson said the individually wrapped microwaveable sweet potatoes, which Wada markets under the Dole brand as well as its own Easy Baker label, has sold well over the past several years.

Consumers who weren"t sure what to do with a sweet potato can pick one up, put it in the microwave, and eight minutes later they have a side dish, he said.

Wada also is testing a foil-wrapped Easy Griller sweet potato, Watt said. The potatoes are about 8-10 ounces, Watt said.



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