Over a recent 16-year period North Carolina sweet potato volume has jumped by 42 percent. That translates into consumer consumption hitting 7.2 pounds per capita.
The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission reports much of the increase is attributed in large part to consumers searching for healthy food choices. This ranges from fries, to fresh cuts, and sweet potato tater tots.
While the majority of the N.C. crop remains the conventional orange-fleshed covington variety, there is growing consumer interest in organics. There is a perception among consumers that ‘organic’ means healthy. However, research finds no difference in nutritional value between organic and conventionally grown. So it becomes a matter of producers meeting consumer demand.
Of the newer varieties, purple sweet potatoes with their purple-tinted skin and violet flesh are gaining in popularity. Plus, being a novelty is an attraction to some consumers.
Vick Family Farms of Wilson, N.C., reports shipping more organic and specialty varieties as niche items, such as reddish-purple, white-fleshed murasaki, to retail supermarkets. These were developed at the University of Louisiana in the early 2000s, and the sweet bonita, with its tan skin and white flesh. Vick also still grows a few acres of beauregards, red-copper tubers with deep orange flesh. Nash Produce of Nashville, N.C. is seeing an increase in demand for its organics, bonita and murasaki varieties.