As the sweet potato category continues to evolve from a seasonal set to a year-round favorite, suppliers have been hard at work devising ways to help you sell more of their tasty tubers. 

They’ve come up with a plethora of packaging options, size selections and recipe renderings that should appeal to you and your customers.

Suggesting new uses for sweet potatoes is a sure way to move more product, grower-shippers say.

Scott Farms Inc., Lucama, N.C., partnered with chef Jason Smith, owner of four restaurants, including 18 Seaboard in Raleigh, N.C., to help create some innovative sweet potato recipes.

“There are so many different uses for the sweet potato that we wanted to help the consumer learn how to use them in new and different ways,” says Jeff Thomas, Scott Farms’ director of marketing.

Smith recently hosted a media meal that featured sweet potatoes in every course — from appetizers to dessert.

He’s come up with ideas for sweet potato ice cream, sweet potato pancakes, “so moist you don’t need syrup,” and even sweet potato butter, Thomas says.

Smith has also concocted some tasty tailgating options, like sweet potato skins, where some of the sweet potato flesh is replaced by shredded chicken or beef and topped with green onions and melted cheese.

For dessert, how about sweet potato pecan pie that substitutes a sweet potato filling for corn syrup?

The company shares a number of sweet potato recipes at
scottfarms.com.

 

Versatile veggie

“(Sweet potatoes) are really a versatile vegetable,” says Robert A. Dallas, partner in Dallas Distributing Co., Livingston, Calif.

“They can be used in just about anything,” he says, including bread, cookies, cakes, pies and cupcakes.

Cook them, chop them up and put them in salads or use them in casseroles, he suggests. Some people cut them into slivers and use them like they would carrots in carrot cake.

Charlotte Vick, partner at Vick Family Farms, Wilson, N.C., bumped into Steve Waters, owner of the Fudge Factory, Beaufort, N.C., at the supermarket and discovered the candy maker conjures up sweet potato fudge using canned yams.

In late September, she was planning to send him a carton of fresh sweet potatoes so he could make some of his fudge for visitors at the Vick’s booth at Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in October.

Vick Family Farms also provides the material for 217 Brew Works in Wilson, N.C., which makes a sweet potato beer called Vick’s Choice.

“We are very proud of it, and it seems to be a big hit,” Vick says.

For those thirsting for something nonalcoholic, George Wooten Jr., owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., suggests juicing sweet potatoes.

“They’re a very good product to juice,” he says. But don’t drink them “straight,” he advises. Mix them with apples or mangoes to add sweetness.

The Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission touts using sweet potatoes in seafood boils, an especially popular dish in that part of the country, says president Matt Garber, partner at Iota, La.-based Garber Farms. People combine sweet potatoes with crawfish, shrimp, crab or other seafood, he says.

Garber jumped on the idea and developed 3-lb. bags of 2-oz. to 4-oz. sweet potatoes that can be tossed directly into the seafood boils.

He uses posters and other materials from the commission to help promote the concept.

 

Picking up steam

Steamable bags are also catching on among sweet potato aficionados.

Garber Farms launched a 1.5-lb. steamer bag in late March that was “an instant success,” Garber says.

“It’s a great, convenient item for the sweet potato world.”

Nash Produce LLC, Nashville, N.C., also has come out with a steamable bag of six to eight sweet potatoes, says Tami Long, director of marketing and business development. “You throw it your microwave, and you have a side dish right then and there in less than eight minutes,” she says.

Consider cross merchandising steamable bags with rotisserie chicken, Long suggests.           

Vick Family Farms is offering display units for its steamer bags this fall that resemble the company’s harvest bins “in hopes that it is warm and welcoming to today’s consumer,” Vick says.

Wayne E. Bailey Produce originally launched its Petitelings in the foodservice sector, and now they’re getting traction at retail, as well, Wooten says. They’re like a “mini sweet potato,” he says, and are packed in poly and mesh bags under the George Foods Petitelings brand.

Another product Nash is working on is a pack containing a sweet potato complete with condiments, like butter or seasoning, Long says.

It will be similar to ready-to-make pizzas that many convenience stores offer and likely would be merchandised in the deli section of supermarkets. Nash was collaborating with a spice company to develop a seasoning for the kit and was also working on packaging options in early fall.

As Long sees it, the size of the potato would be up to the retailer – perhaps a large spud for a full meal or a smaller one for a side dish. The company plans to be ready to go with the new product early in 2018.

“We’re trying to make it more convenient for people and show that you can have healthy and convenience at the same time,” Long says.

 

Size it up

Consider offering shoppers a wide range of sizes and varieties, Dallas suggests. Dallas Distributing offers the basic U.S. No. 1 sweet potato that ranges from 15 oz. to 24 oz.,
a Jumbo size that weighs 1.5 lb.
or larger and a medium size that’s 8 oz. to 12 oz..

“Jumbos are popular with a lot of cooks who cook pies and casseroles,” Dallas says. “The bang for your buck is really good there. They’re bigger and require less handling and less peeling.”

And display some alternative varieties, like the Diane, which has a red skin and orange flesh, or the burgundy, a newer variety with a purplish exterior and bright orange flesh. Finally, try to appeal to the growing number of shoppers who say they want to eat healthier by playing up the nutrition benefits of sweet potatoes, Long advises.

Sweet potatoes are packed with potassium, beta carotenes and alpha carotenes, which help fight aging, she says.

They have about 6 grams of fiber, 400% of the recommended daily requirement of vitamin A, and they have been known to reduce blood sugar levels, she says.

“It’s a ridiculously healthy food.”

 

 

 

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