The sweet potato isn’t a true exotic anymore these days. The batata has conquered a permanent place in the supermarket, and finds its way to the consumer’s plate increasingly often. Still, it’s mostly the orange variety that is known. We asked two relatively small importers, Bel Impex and Exotimex, how they notice the impetuous growth of this tuber.
“With two containers a week, we are a small player,” says Elke Oudendijk of Bel Impex. The importer of exotics with offices in Nootdorp and Amsterdam supplies two varieties: white flesh and orange flesh. “We import the sweet potatoes year-round from Honduras, the United States, Spain and Portugal,” Elke goes on to say. That the sweet potato is becoming increasingly common, is something Elke also notices. “Definitely,” she confirms. “Demand for both the white and the orange sweet potato is increasing. Looking at the past decade, the market has increased about fourteenfold. The sweet potato is seen to be used in kitchens almost on a weekly basis.” The company supplies to both supermarkets and other wholesalers. “It’s not so much that we have gotten additional clients. We mainly notice that the volumes per client have increased.”
The focus at Bel Impex is on the sweet potato with white flesh. In the market for the orange-fleshed sweet potato, larger volumes are sold. “The white-fleshed one is originally less well-known. You do see them gaining more ground because they are less sweet than the orange ones,” Elke explains. “Originally, they are found much more in Surinamese cuisine. Through Surinamese cuisine, the sweet potato originally ended up on the Dutch market.”
“We also supply the sweet potatoes in smaller packages, but most of it is still individual. Supermarkets do increasingly mention packaging it, but now you’re also seeing a trend again to offer products individually.”
Importer Exotimex carries three varieties of sweet potatoes in its product range: orange, red/white and white/white, with the colours referring to the skin and the flesh. “We import the sweet potatoes from Honduras and South Africa,” Johannes Lachi says. “At the moment (week 49, ed.) there is a shortage in Honduras. The South African season starts again in March.” That puts the market under pressure. In the United States, a lot of rain has fallen. The part of the harvest that was lost due to the rain is largely compensated by the increased acreage. In North Carolina, the acreage increased to 34,000 hectares this year. That’s 5,000 hectares more than last year.
“The situation in the US does have consequences for the orange potato,” Johannes says. “The orange one is mostly found in supermarkets. The one that’s red on the outside and white inside, is more for the Asian market. We don’t supply to supermarkets ourselves, but we focus on wholesalers across Europe.”