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Europe: majority of sweet potatoes intended for export

The sweet potato, originating in Latin America, is one of the most important food products in the world. 130 million tons of it is harvested every year. Today, the majority of these harvests takes place in Asia: China alone produces over 90% of the total output. Other current places of origin are Africa, Latin America and North America. In Europe, only Portugal delivers a sizable chunk.

In Holland, the potato’s popularity never really took off. John van Ewijk of Kumara Import bv thinks he knows why: “Most people over here don’t know how to prepare them. You can’t cook them the way you cook regular potatoes. But sweet potatoes are really worthwhile once you become familiar with them. It’s actually more like a carrot than a potato. In countries like Germany, they put much more effort into promoting the product: the North-Carolina Sweet Potato Commission started advertising in retailers. That’s something we should do over here.”

La Tropicana in Maastricht specializes in slightly more tropical produce. Besides ginger, cassava, yams and bananas it is busy spreading the word when it comes to sweet potatoes. The vast majority however, is intended for export. Owner Vincent Schoonbrood still thinks the potato could charm its way into Dutch supermarkets. But for the time being, he supplies England, France, Spain and Italy. “The supply of sweet potato varieties fluctuates from year to year. This affects prices. Right now, the price is high because places like Brazil and South Africa had meagre crops. Last year, in contrast, their crops were almost overflowing the market.”

Importer and wholesaler Belimpex, headquartered in Amsterdam, buys the sweet potatoes in Honduras, with small supplements coming in from Brazil. René Rooseman, who is marketing different varieties, thinks people could be swayed by the interesting diversity in sweet potatoes: “The orange kind for instance, that one’s rich in carotene. And it’s sweeter than the white variety. They are clearly two totally different products. People who like a white variety won’t easily go for the orange one.”

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