Sweet Potatoes are a Year-Round Staple

Gone are the days when sweet potatoes were known as a “holiday vegetable.” Retailers should focus on their nutritional value, how they are a superfood, and on how they can help to reduce stress and improve digestion.

Consumers are more aware of health benefits and how to incorporate sweet potatoes into recipes.


Although they have dealt with some challenges, sweet potato growers and their supporters are entering 2024 optimistically and with initiatives to boost demand for a product they are positioning as great tasting, versatile and a positive addition to any diet.

And, over the past two decades, the sweet potato sector has gone through significant changes as it has emerged as an everyday food item.

“With the exception of specialty varieties — Stokes purple, Okinawa, Ben Yagi, etc. — sweet potatoes are no longer considered a seasonal item,” says Jeremy Fookes, director of sales at A.V. Thomas Produce, Atwater, CA. “Retailer and foodservice customers demand that mainstream types of sweet potatoes — red, orange, white, Japanese purple — are available year-round.”

Troy Bland, chief executive of Bland Farms, Glennville, GA, explains as more consumers become aware of the vegetable’s health benefits and learn how to incorporate sweet potatoes into various recipes and meals, they’ve become a year-round staple.

“Subsequently, we’ve had to amp up our production, and our Georgia and North Carolina crops have grown tremendously,” says Bland, who is also a partner in the Sand Candy Produce Co., Rocky Mount, NC, a partnership between Bland Farms and Battleboro Produce focused on sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina and Georgia.

“We are constantly reevaluating and adjusting based on demand so we can meet the needs of our consumers without any delays or production issues.”


In 2023, Bland says, demand increased and “product was very tight toward the end of last year’s crop. However, since we started with the new crop, quality has been excellent, and demand has remained very strong. We’ve seen the domestic demand for sweet potatoes increase significantly year after year, so we are anticipating a very strong 2024.”

“Growers are continually adapting, but it’s been a tough couple of years farming sweet potatoes,” says Fookes. “After an explosion in popularity and demand, production was ramped up year after year. However, those production increases began to outpace the demand, and while production was increasing, so was the cost per acre of production. With weaker farmgate value, there has been attrition within the sweet potato industry.”

With the sweet potato crop year running from August through July, says Fookes, growers are just getting to the midpoint of the year, but overall outlook for the remainder of this crop year remains optimistic. “The scaling back should support pricing that allows for growers to get back to a sustainable level as we move deeper into 2024.”

Susan Noritake, director of sales at Country Sweet Produce, Bakersfield, CA, which uses Bako Sweet branding, says growing costs have essentially flattened out after substantial Y-O-Y increases since 2020. The retail market has lagged inflation, but more and greater price increases have helped offset.

She says developments favor the upcoming year. “Outlook for demand in 2024 is promising, with more and more consumers incorporating sweet potatoes into their meals in new and creative ways throughout the year.”

In Louisiana, outside influences have been having an effect, with inflation, for one, pushing consumers to look for the lowest cost calories, which has affected sweet potatoes, says Commissioner Mike Strain, DVM, Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry (LDAF), Baton Rouge, LA.

Currency exchange rates have also had an impact. Last year, processor Lamb Weston chose not to accept contracted shipments from Louisiana sweet potato growers because of a decline in the euro. Lamb Weston paid the contracts, Strain emphasized, but the decision left growers wondering if the company would return to contract in the market.

On top of it all, drought and high temperatures have plagued the region.

Still, the LDAF continues to get the word out on Louisiana sweet potatoes.

“That’s a continual push,” says Strain. “We talk about a Louisiana sweet potato each and every day. We promote through our Certified Louisiana and our normal marketing and through our specialty crops. Every program we talk about Louisiana sweet potatoes and how they are extremely nutritious, high in fiber, high in riboflavin, high in minerals and nutrients, and how they should be part of a proper diet.”


For the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission, which uses the sweetpotato spelling, social media is giving the crop a lift.

“In the last several years, sweetpotatoes have been experiencing a new adoration by consumers through promotional efforts of the North Carolina Sweetpotato Commission as well as other influencers who appreciate the nutritional value and versatility that our mighty root vegetable brings,” says CoCo Daughtry, communications specialist, NC Sweetpotato Commission, Benson, NC.

“Domestically, the challenge continues for there to be an economic balance between the producer and the retailer, meaning our producers’ input costs continually rise while retailer price is not keeping pace.”

She points out online promotion has translated into more demand for sweet potatoes.

“Consumer interest increased as they watched recipe video content showing the many ways our beloved vegetable can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Daughtry says. “With our social media strategy putting more of a focus on TikTok and Instagram reels in collaboration with influencers, we will continue to expand on our content that consists of delicious and nutritious recipes that anybody can create,” she says.


A change in retailers’ approach to sweet potatoes means the supply chain needs to align with the marketing and merchandising to maximize the product potential.

“We’ve absolutely seen a change in merchandising and marketing sweet potatoes,” says Sand Candy’s Bland. “Retailers have shifted marketing sweet potatoes seasonally to year-round. We’ve gone from seeing a push for sweet potatoes during November and December to securing a permanent spot on the shelves 365 days a year.”

Although a full calendar product today, it may be a good idea to consider the seasons when merchandising sweet potatoes.

“There are times when ‘pile high, watch it fly’ works for sweet potatoes, during the fall and winter, but sweet potatoes are best displayed year-round with multiple varieties to bring additional color and sales to the category,” says A.V. Thomas Produce’s Fookes.

Although a full calendar product today, it may be a good idea to consider the seasons in merchandising sweet potatoes.

He recommends retailers do this within a designated section of the produce department. Keeping at least three types of sweet potatoes year-round is recommended, he adds, with additional offerings cycled through the department to encourage impulse buys and building on consumer trips throughout the year.

Daughtry says retailers the commission works with focus on using POS assets, bins and signage that highlight how sweetpotatoes are available year-round and are perfect for ‘Any Reason, Any Season.’

“Gone are the days when sweetpotatoes were known as a ‘holiday vegetable.’ We are focusing on their nutritional value, how they are a heart-healthy superfood, and on how their health benefits help to reduce stress and improve digestion.”

If a sweet potato is grown in North Carolina, Daughtry says they encourage retailers to reflect that in their promotions by including them in end cap displays, demos and display contests, as well as working with their retail registered dietitian in utilizing commission resources.

Bland says Sand Candy is unique in its positioning.

“The collaboration between Bland Farms and Battleboro Produce, the two companies behind Sand Candy, solidifies our relationship with our retailers,” he says. “Battleboro Produce is backed by years of growing sweet potatoes, and Bland Farms has long maintained a stronghold in the retail segment. This partnership provides retailers and consumers with the best of both worlds, growing and retail. It also resonates with our retailers who turn to us for advice on merchandising and marketing sweet potatoes.”


Retailers gaining traction in the sweet potato case are adopting merchandising plans that increase display size, use secondary placement such as shippers, and offer convenience products, including bags, microwavable items, trays, etc., says Country Sweet Produce’s Noritake.

“Grower-packer-shippers like Bako Sweet are helping drive the category’s evolution in partnership with forward-thinking retailers,” she says. “New consumers continue to be attracted to the category’s health benefits and versatility. Value-added quality and organic offerings regardless of locale, continue to gain importance.”

Innovation and initiatives have also helped elevate the sweet potato sector. And, although they are now full-year commodities, the opportunity in the traditional holiday selling season is nothing to be ignored.

For example, a recent Bako Sweet initiative retailers on holiday displays championed sweet potatoes.

“We recognize the deep connection people have with sweet potatoes, often tied to their holiday memories,” says Noritake. “That’s why we see this time of year as a golden opportunity to educate and inspire shoppers.”

The company partnered with registered dietitian Mackenzie Burgess from Cheerful Choices, as well as influencer Kelsey Preciado from Little Bits of Real Food, to further promote the creative use of sweet potatoes in the holidays and beyond.

Burgess created her own version of the viral TikTok trend, accordion sweet potatoes paired with a smoked paprika maple aioli, while Preciado prepared a creamy dairy-free mini sweet potato cheesecake.

Sand Candy has plans to support its sweet potato sell-through in 2024.

“We’ve seen great success with our holiday bin promotion and will continue offering that this year,” says Bland. “In addition, we’ve amped up our social media presence to generate excitement about Sand Candy sweet potatoes and sweet potatoes in general. We will be giving shout-outs to our retailers, featuring mouth-watering recipes, and showcasing our POS materials. We have a few other promotions in the pipeline that we are working on for 2024.”

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Highlight Locally Grown Sweet Potatoes

Retailers can merchandise sweet potatoes by featuring them in a “locally grown” section.

“Consumers are becoming more conscious as to where their food comes from and this is a great way for them to showcase local produce,” says Troy Bland, partner in Sand Candy, Rocky Mount, NC, and chief executive of Bland Farms, Glennville, GA

Commissioner Mike Strain, DVM, Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry (LDAF), Baton Rouge, LA, also emphasizes the power of promoting sweet potatoes as local where applicable. He says just promoting local products in the main produce section isn’t where efforts should end, and suggested retailers mount conspicuous up-front local produce programs, including sweet potatoes.

“We encourage everyone to shop the local section first,” he says. “Most of our home groceries have those local products sections.

The LDAF also uses media, including billboards in and around its growing region, to promote local consumption, including its efforts to get consumers to introduce more sweet potatoes into crawfish boils.