This heavyweight category has gone from a fresh produce department vegetable in the stands to a featured guest across retail formats and foodservice menus. The question is not if retailers will tap into their growing potential, but how. In this 44th issue of The Snack Magazine, we take the temperature of some of our industry friends who share their personal and professional thoughts on a booming segment as we rally for the coveted holiday push…
MICHAEL VALPREDO, President, Country Sweet Produce
"We’ve started using the Baby Sweet Potatoes more and more, mainly because it’s what seems to be the favorite way for our kids to enjoy them. It’s such an easy item to prepare and serve; just quarter-cut them and lay them out on a baking sheet with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Especially this time of year, the weather cools down, football games are on, and friends come over to enjoy the season. I’m glad we stuck with getting this smaller-sized potato to market and we are excited to see them promoted in stores—watching as the new ways of using them evolves. The Babies are really going to be a big hit.”
ERIC BECK, Director of Marketing, Wada Farms
"As sweet potatoes gain more popularity at various retail venues, merchants are seeking more value-added options to provide to their customer base. Consumers scan the produce department for convenient, fresh, and healthy options, which can also be defined as ‘quick and easy,’ but until recently, ‘quick and easy’ wasn’t necessarily synonymous with cooked vegetables. The traditional consumer mindset that cooking sweet potatoes can be a long process has been remedied by a handful of microwaveable options. Wada Farms has pioneered a good portion of these value-added options by producing a single-serve option such as the Easy Baker Microwaveable Sweet Potato to a 1.5 lb Steamer Bag of Mini Sweets that can easily feed households from three to five individuals. Along with value-added products, there is a steady demand for organic sweet potatoes. While the nutritional properties between conventional- and organically-grown vegetables remains in steady debate, the organic market continues to expand in every produce department across the country. Wada has focused our organic growth in mostly orange fleshed varieties, but we see potential in other varietal segments down the road.”
REBECCA SCOTT, Grower Accounting/Marketing, Nash Produce
"From a simple side dish to the main course, sweet potatoes can fill any role on the breakfast, lunch, or dinner plate! With a wide variety of colors and sizes available, they can be transformed into almost any shape to create a sweet or savory meal. Sweet potatoes are a southern staple and my family is always excited when I bring my homemade sweet potato casserole adorned with pecans and marshmallows to a holiday dinner! Consumer demand for a healthy, versatile product is on the rise and sweet potatoes are the perfect fit to satisfy any craving!”
GENE HARRIS, Senior Purchasing Manager/Travel Administrator, Denny’s Corp.
"Sweet potatoes have the right first name—SWEET! They are packed with fiber and nutrition; vitamins A, C, E, and K; potassium; and magnesium. Growing up, they were primarily a wintertime/holiday favorite, now they are enjoyed year-round in multiple ways. My three favorites are: baked with a little butter and brown sugar; sweet potato fries (they must be crispy) lightly dipped in ranch dressing; and a southern favorite that I have grown to love is sweet potato casserole, with brown sugar and pecan topping that is crunchy!”
MOLLY EDENFIELD, Member Relations, Southeast Produce Council, Inc.
"Sweet potatoes have always given me fond memories of Thanksgiving. We didn’t serve them much at everyday meals when I was young, but as I’ve gotten older and learned to cook for myself, I’ve tried to slip them in year-round. I especially love roasted sweet potatoes with herbs! However, after a long day of work, my favorite meals are the quick and easy ones. A friend at RPE, Inc. gave me some Tasteful Selections™ samples to try after a show. They were so easy and delicious! Pre-washed and prepped mini sweet potatoes in a convenient microwave tray that cook in 5 ½ minutes and come in a variety of flavors from savory to sweet…what’s not to love?!? These are always on my grocery list now!”
ALEX BERKLEY, Director of Sales, Frieda’s Specialty Produce
"My favorite variety of sweet potatoes is our Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes, which have purple skin and flesh—they are one of a kind! I love how dense the texture is, so they aren’t mushy or fall apart when cooking. They also aren’t cloyingly sweet, so I use them for savory preparation all the time—my favorite being Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato Salad with Chipotle Vinaigrette! The heat and acidity balances so well with the sweetness. I am not much of a ‘sweets’ person, however our Stokes Purple Sweet Potato Pie recipe is unreal! It is truly the first time I have eaten sweet potato pie and loved it!
Merchandising the Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes alongside regular orange or red sweet potatoes is the best way to execute. Retailers can grab the attention of the sweet potato shopper without compromising a sale. Those who buy Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes still buy regular orange sweet potato, and they come back for more. Of course, the holiday season is the best time to promote the Stokes as that is when sweet potato consumption is at its highest. However, January’s focus on healthy eating is a great time since shoppers are looking to incorporate more sweet potatoes in their diet since they’re more nutritious, and add color to the plates. Stokes Purple is higher in antioxidants than blueberries and has a low glycemic index. It appeals to everyone from body builders to those managing diabetes.”