Over 300% in 10 years

US sweet potatoes gaining ground in Europe

In the United States, sweet potatoes are an integral part of the average American’s menu, but in Europe only trendsetters and luxury restaurants so far include the item on their carte du jour. However, this might soon change, as the product is definitely on the rise. Over the past decade, the segment has increased by a whopping 300%. Several dozen growers have united in the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute (ASPMI) to rally support for the export of sweet potatoes. Dutch agency Phaff Export Marketing has been deemed the right representative for upping international promotion. Dutch visitors to the Market Hall in Rotterdam and this year’s Margriet Winter Fair in Utrecht already had the opportunity to see the sweet potato from America.



US has 50% market share in Europe

So far, the US is the only producing country able to provide year-round fresh potatoes. Although China’s still ahead in terms of acreage, the Asian superpower mainly supplies local markets. Despite having access to a strong local market themselves, US growers have hedged their bets. Besides Europe, promotional activities have started in Canada and Mexico. Europe, though, is the main outlet region of the sweet potato. The total market is estimated at 80,000 tons. Of this amount, the US has a market share of around 50%. Israel follows with 18%.

North Carolina

Most sweet potatoes are grown in the southern United States, with North Carolina as the main producer. This state grows about half the national production. The total harvest in the US amounts to approximately 977,000 tons. In the US the potato is harvested from early September until the end of October. Fresh potatoes are stored in special barns under optimal temperature and humidity conditions until they are shipped to Europe. By far the most important variety in the US is the orange-fleshed Covington. In addition, there are white, red and purple varieties in existence. In Europe, alongside Covington, the Beauregard and Orleans varieties are the most popular.

A recent visit to the fields in North Carolina revealed a good harvest this year, despite local rain. This in contrast to last year, when volumes were hardly enough to sustain the season. Due to the delicate skin of the sweet potato, the complete harvest for the fresh market is done by hand. This work is typically performed by Mexicans. A labour-intensive process, as revealed during a visit to the fields. In addition to normal daily wages, extra money can be earned by increasing individual productivity.



Organic

Organic acreage is still relatively small, but the demand for organic produce is rising sharply. In total, the organic acreage is estimated at 5%. The productions are only 60% of conventional sweet potatoes, but because of high demand, organic is exhibiting a strong growth. Farm Pak for instance, a US company owned by former ASPMI chairman John Barnes, works about 240 hectares of sweet potatoes.



Processing

The processing of sweet potatoes is big business in the US. In local supermarkets, processed sweet potatoes can be found in a variety of products, from chips to pancakes. Striking is the high degree of entrepreneurship among the growers. Companies start their own processing facilities. Companies like the aforementioned Farm Pak which, in cahoots with Ham Farms and Burch Equipment, founded processing plant Yamco. Covington Gourmet Vodka, which was introduced by these companies and distilled from sweet potatoes, won a gold medal at the San Francisco Worlds Spirits Competition last year. Americans themselves speak of veritable superfood. Health claims are made on the basis of scientific research with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, fibre, beta-carotene and potassium.

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