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Sweetening the Deal: A Q&A With Susan Noritake, Director of Sales, Bako Sweet®

Sweetening the Deal: A Q&A With Susan Noritake, Director of Sales, Bako Sweet®

The prized sweet potato needs no introduction. Each year, the all-natural superfood continues to amass a more expansive fan base—and with good reason.

To truly reach the heart of this category, we must first venture into Bakersfield, California, known affectionately as “California’s Sweet Spot.” Living true to the name, this rich growing region is home to an experienced team of farmers who passionately nurture their crops to bring the best-quality sweet potatoes to market. You guessed it: We’re talking about Bako Sweet®.

Country Sweet Produce’s highly popular brand has played an integral role in accelerating the sweet potato’s overall success, solidifying its status as a produce department staple.

Susan Noritake, Director of Sales, took us behind the scenes to explore just how this goal has been—and continues to be—achieved.

Peggy Packer: Susan, I know the month of February sparks a host of opportunities to promote sweet potatoes. How does this advantageous time frame lend itself to increased consumption?

Susan Noritake, Director of Sales, Bako Sweet®: February is National Heart Health Month and National Sweet Potato Month. Both of these celebrations give retailers an opportunity to enlighten shoppers on the benefits of sweet potatoes and engage with consumers in creative and unexpected ways. We have been pitching special Valentine’s Day-themed shippers with a large focus on educating consumers about sweet potatoes and their advantages, including how to incorporate them into everyday meals. This inspires shoppers to pick up Bako Sweet and sweeten their everyday lives.

Additionally, Bako Sweet carries the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Heart Check Certification on our value-added packaging, which directly communicates to consumers the heart-healthy benefits of sweet potatoes.

PP: What a prestigious distinction to have! How does the year-round inclusion of the organization’s logo elevate the Bako Sweet brand?

SN: When consumers see the highly recognizable logo on the packaging of our Bako Sweet value-added offerings, they are opened up to the positive impact that sweet potatoes can make in terms of heart health.

Retailers can capitalize on this boost by spotlighting the category’s other attributes, like being a good source of potassium and fiber, as well as vitamins A and C. Our website features a recently developed Sweet Potato Facts page, which dives into each of these advantages and more.

PP: As health benefits and flavor contribute to the category’s continued success, what are some of the company’s most recent advancements, and what sparked these strategies?

SN: Currently, Bako Sweet has a full line of convenient packages, from microwavable singles to microwavable family bags. We also offer 3 lb. bags great for families or 4 count trays for larger, more uniform portion sizes. While our orange-flesh sweet potatoes are the most popular, we have other unexpected varieties such as Reds, White Sweets, and Purple Japanese, allowing us to offer a range of flavors.

In addition, we broadened our merchandising and consumer education efforts in 2023. In June, we announced the rollout of a new website. The goal of this launch was to bring consumers more useful information about sweet potatoes while ultimately driving people to their local retailer to find our products. As we continue to grow, Bako Sweet plans to analyze user data and feedback to further enhance the website and meet the evolving needs of its consumers.

Strategic partnerships like our collaboration with DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight, were also forged to captivate shoppers and inspire increased sweet potato purchases.

PP: It seems several winning strategies are playing out for the Bako Sweet operation. As you look to stimulate more category growth, what rising trends have you witnessed at retail?

SN: Sweet potato season really kicks off with the holidays as a star of the November and December months, and consumers are finding ways to incorporate this versatile vegetable into a variety of eating occasions. What’s really important is for grocers to find fun ways to engage customers throughout the year, whether it’s a heart-healthy February, Easter celebrations, or summer grilling. To help with this, Bako Sweet is arming our partners with eye-catching shipper displays to spark impulse buys, as well as creative promotions, engaging contests, and newly developed recipes.

PP: While we’re on the topic of retail support, are there any other tips you can share for grocers seeking to boost sweet potato purchases?

SN: This season, we’ve developed many inspiring creations and will likely lean into some sweeter treats like heart-shaped sweet potato cookies to compete with chocolates and other holiday fare.

Having enough product on shelves is another key to shopper engagement, along with secondary displays in shippers. Cross-promotions pushing out to unexpected areas of the produce department will grab attention and drive sales. For example, almonds, apples, or pears all offer a great pairing with sweet potato recipes. Merchandisers can also branch out to center-store items like oatmeal or s’mores.

A slice of sweet potato is delicious and really amps up the health value of any treat!

"What’s really important is for grocers to find fun ways to engage customers throughout the year, whether it’s a heart-healthy February, Easter celebrations, or summer grilling."

Susan Noritake, Director of Sales, Bako Sweet®

With an already massive consumer base to tap into, it doesn’t take much to harness the momentum of this rapidly rising category.

In fact, all you need is Bako Sweet’s robust portfolio of sweet potatoes, hailing directly from California’s Sweet Spot.