The global sweet potato market continues to widen its appeal, as interest in the product grows globally. In the Netherlands, the supply from Egypt is diminishing due to smaller exporters shifting to other products, resulting in a more stable market. Spain and Portugal also face quality issues due to a dry summer. The United States, on the other hand, is seeing high local market prices, leading to limited demand for exports. In Belgium, the sweet potato season is thriving, benefiting from ideal weather conditions, although it remains a smaller player internationally.
In Germany, there's a stable demand for Spanish sweet potatoes, particularly large calibres. Domestic cultivation is gaining momentum. In Italy, sweet potatoes are becoming increasingly popular, with production in both the north and south. Meanwhile, in North America, there's a drop in sweet potato supply, with reduced acreage, attributed to rising production costs and increased competition from countries like Egypt, impacting pricing and export demand.
Netherlands: Egyptian sweet potato supply shrinking, US expensive due to good local market
"Right now, from Egypt, we see the supply shrinking a bit because the smaller exporters are switching to other products. This leaves the real sweet potato producers which means you are going to get a slightly more stable market situation," says a Dutch sweet potato specialist. "Furthermore, sweet potatoes from Spain and Portugal remain available but we do see that their quality is not very good. This is partly due to the dry summer, which also means that less is available. As a result, Egypt might be available for a bit longer in January, February and March. The USA is already in full swing, however the local market is high in price which means the export market is also offered high. Because there is enough available from other countries for now, demand for USA is not so high yet. However, it is expected that in the spring there will be a switch where USA will soon be exclusively available and then higher prices are expected."
Belgium: Local production continues to increase
In Belgium, the sweet potato season kicked off again a fortnight ago. This rather exotic crop is being grown more and more locally and is now a regular feature of Belgian cultivation. "This year is looking good again too. The situation is stabilising a bit at the moment. The acreage remains equivalent in recent years and this year too there is a good harvest to report," said a Belgian trader. "The Belgian wet summer with a dry, warm Indian summer is ideal for sweet potato growth. However, the Belgian product obviously remains a small player on the market. It is mainly determined internationally by product from the United States, Spain and Egypt. They are increasingly focusing on production due to the popularity it enjoys among consumers these days. This makes us dependent on their movements in the market, but we do see more and more customers specifically choosing the Belgian product, which is not inferior to it either."
Germany: High demand for L-calibre
There is currently a stable demand for Spanish sweet potatoes and the Egyptian season is now also starting gradually. In recent months, demand for large calibres from South Africa as well as Portugal has been particularly high, according to an importer. "After we switched to L-calibre, sales have tripled, even though the smaller goods were in perfect condition. At the moment we are trading Spanish goods and we are sticking with the larger calibre for now."
Although it is still a niche in domestic cultivation, sweet potato seems to be gaining in importance among German growers as well. The marketing season for the new German crop is now in the starting blocks. "Demand is high and stable, especially in autumn and winter, although we were still able to place a lot of volume in the 22/23 marketing season, even in high summer," describes a sweet potato producer.
UK: Import will be dependent on market demand
UK imports of sweet potatoes from North Carolina to supplement the year-round supply for some importers. The quality this season from there is looking good, but growers are saying that 20-30% less has been planted after a poor season last year where quality was less than expected, this was reflected in the returns.
The sweet potatoes should now be ready for exports, but with Thanks Giving in November and less volumes the first arrivals are not expect before early December.
There are still sweet potatoes from Egypt on the European market, so import will be dependent on market demand. The UK market also imports from Honduras in the the winter months.
Italy: Sweet potato gains interest
The sweet potato is gaining interest in Italy and there are small production areas in both the north and south of the country. In the north, there is a company that grows sweet potatoes in Veneto. Harvesting starts at the end of September and lasts until February, with the emphasis on Italian production to give consumers an alternative. In mid-October, prices for loose sweet potatoes were around €1.50-1.70/kg. Prices are fairly stable and do not fluctuate.
In southern Italy, a consortium's sweet potato project in Calabria is continuing. "We have reached 80 hectares this year. Harvesting has started and there have been some skin quality problems with the first crop. The campaign will continue until May/June, depending on the reduction in stocks. Consumption is on the rise, as we can see from the orders coming in. Our aim is to supply Italian products all year round." According to the director, sweet potatoes could bring a lot of satisfaction to a (still) small Italian chain.
Spain: “I don't think anyone will stock up on a lot of sweet potatoes this season”
According to the latest crop status report from the Junta de Andalucía, the sweet potato campaign in the North West Coast region, in Cádiz, is ending, “with yields similar to other campaigns and the historical average.” Andalusia is the autonomous community with the largest area planted with sweet potatoes in Spain, about 580 hectares, according to the Survey on crop areas and yields in Spain in 2022, which put the total hectares nationwide at 1,680.
“This campaign could be totally different from what has been known until now,” comments an Andalusian sweet potato producer. “Several years ago a pest appeared, which is popularly known as the sweet potato beetle, which last year caused a lot of damage to the stocks. Therefore, I don't think anyone will stock much product this campaign; and if it does, they will have to be careful to control the incidence of this insect.”
Portugal: Stabilised production, growth still needed for post-harvest process
Sweet potato production in Portugal has stabilised as of late. This is partly due to the issues with water availability in the south. That being said, there’s always some fluctuation in the production of sweet potatoes on a yearly basis, and this year it’s expected that volumes will be slightly lower than they were last year. The quality of the sweet potatoes grown in Portugal has increased significantly the past nine years, and this year the quality will be up to par as well.
Portugal can still grow a lot at home and export, despite the stabilization of production volumes. However, currently Portuguese companies seem to have low interest and incentives in making investments in the process of storing and packing. It’s a missing part of the chain in Portugal. This was already the case in 2017 and the situation hasn’t changed much.
the current season, the season started a bit earlier due to a warmer spring. This caused plants to evolve faster than they normally would. When looking at the overall volumes for Europe, quantities might be slightly lower this year but there is a significant increase in the Bellevue availability.
North America: Drop in sweet potato supply
The North American sweet potato crop will be down for the 2023-2024 season. In North Carolina, a state that accounts for 60 percent of the nation’s crop, growers are seeing their second year of reduced acreage--in all, acreage has dropped by approximately 40 percent in the last two years. Meanwhile in other sweet potato producing states such as California, Mississippi and Louisiana, the acreage has stayed relatively level. That said, the yields look to be slightly above average and quality is strong on North American sweet potatoes.
The acreage drop is largely due to input costs say growers and shippers, which continue to grow for sweet potato production while pricing hasn’t kept up.
However it’s also due to pressure on export demand. The export market for U.S. sweet potatoes has dropped substantially as competition from countries such as Egypt, which has ramped up its production, continues to grow and puts pressure on North American sweet potato pricing.
Pricing right now for sweet potatoes is up and more of the crop is also now contracted compared to five to 10 years ago.
France: demand on the rise
The French sweet potato campaign is off to a flying start, with the first products arriving on the market in early October. The Spanish origin has been present since August from Cadix, with high prices at the start of the campaign. Today, there is a larger supply on the market, as the Spanish origin is still present, with products from Alicante and Murcia in addition to the French product. According to one operator, there is also some Egyptian sweet potato on the market. This increased supply on the market has led to a downward trend in prices. With the arrival of colder weather, demand is just starting to pick up.
Egypt: Early start of the season
The Egyptian sweet potato season got off to an early start last month, more than a month earlier than usual, with bigger volumes than last season, and smaller sizes and prices fluctuating daily. These new parameters resulted in a drop in prices at the start of the season, as harvest came while temperatures were still warm in the UK and the Netherlands (main Egyptian markets), volumes were higher than demand, and small sizes were sold at lower prices." A grower says, "Prices fell by 30% just a few days after the start of the campaign, prompting most growers to suspend harvesting."
Today, European demand is lower than in September, as it becomes increasingly difficult to source quality shipments in the varieties desired by European consumers, such as Beauregard. Local varieties are currently the most available, pending the second harvest of the season. "Prices have therefore dropped from $550 FOB per tonne in September to $450 FOB at present," says an exporter. Faced with falling European demand, Egyptian exporters have turned to the Gulf and other Arab markets.
Next week: Global Market Overview Limes!