At East4Fresh, it is just about time for the new Portuguese sweet potato season to begin. Starting in the second week of September, this Dutch wholesaler will primarily supply these to German and Austrian supermarket customers. "We work with the orange-fleshed Bellevue variety. Its beautiful clear skin characterizes it. When we start with these, our clients' sales often double," says Helien Verhagen.
East4Fresh again planted about 160 hectares of sweet potatoes. However, production is much lower, due to the bad weather. "Sweet potatoes thrive in a fairly warm climate. But it's been cold and windy in Southern Europe. As a result, we have less volume available than last year."
The company has, this year, for the first time, added organic sweet potatoes to its assortment. "The awareness around using pesticides is increasing. That's why we already have a zero pesticide policy, even with conventional cultivation. Planting organic sweet potatoes was a logical next step. There's good demand for organic sweet potatoes. The yield's often a bit lower, so prices are also a bit higher," continues Helien.
These Portuguese sweet potatoes are grown in an area near Algarve. This protected designation of origin has gained them the IGP seal of approval. "Portuguese sweet potatoes also guarantee food safety and quality continuity. These are in a different class to, for example, Egyptian sweet potatoes. These can be fantastic one week but have quite a few defects the next. Our Portuguese sweet potatoes have zero rejects. Should we need to buy extra, we always use our self-developed harvesting machines. That limits things like skin damage."
Year-round demand for Bellevue
East4Fresh supplies retailers in whatever packaging they want, such as EPS. Lately, there's been a demand for a particular kind of packaging. That is the plastic-free cardboard 750-gram retail packaging. This tray contains three or four medium sweet potatoes. "That lets us supply one of the leading German supermarkets with own-brand small packs. They want us to have Bellevue sweet potatoes year-round. We're preparing to do so. That's in partnership with South African growers, among others," Verhagen explains.
According to her, the prospects for the Portuguese season are good. "Currently, South African sweet potatoes are in demand. Most of the North American ones are finished. These haven't been able to guarantee quality for a while, either. These sweet potatoes have quite dull skins too."
"So, they look less appetizing than the Bellevue. We're generally confident about the season. Germans particularly love our product. In recent years, sweet potatoes consumption has grown by at least 25%. Last year, that was even higher. We hope to continue in that vein this season," Helien concludes.