In North Carolina, we often take for granted the humble sweet potato. It’s a Southern staple and a part of many family dinners here. In other parts of the world, however, the sweet potato is a relatively new product. That’s why the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute launched International Sweet Potato Week last year to inform global consumers, and Europeans specifically, about all the benefits of sweet potatoes. This year’s International Sweet Potato Week runs April 1-13.
The campaign, which is actually longer than a week to accommodate shoppers over two weekends, includes in-store samples, special discounts and other retail promotions. To kick things off, a group of two dozen journalists, food writers, importers and exporters attended a special dinner in Hamburg, Germany, on March 29.
The dinner included six original dishes featuring sweet potatoes and a signature sweet potato cocktail. Each item was carefully crafted to show the versatility of the sweet potatoes and highlight a different texture. Appetizers were Sweet Potato-Tarte Flambe, Sweet Potato Foam and Sweet Potato Hash Browns. Sample entrée dishes were Cod with Sweet Potato Gnocchi and Sweet Potato Chips, as well as Filet Mignon with Sweet Potato Crust, Artichoke and Eggplant. For dessert, guests enjoyed Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Sweet Potato Waffle.
“When you introduce a product like sweet potatoes to a new market, it is important to show consumers the versatility of the product and how it tastes,” said Kelly McIver, executive director of the N.C. SweetPotato Commission, attended the kickoff. “If you can show a European food writer how to prepare sweet potatoes, they can pass along that information to consumers and further develop consumer interest for the product.”
Promotions such as International Sweet Potato Week and others are beneficial to N.C. sweet potato farmers. The state is responsible for about 70 percent of total U.S. sweet potato exports, McIver said. In addition, she said about a third of sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina are exported for international consumption.
While it takes time to develop new markets, the results for sweet potatoes are impressive. Over the past 10 years, N.C. sweet potato exports have grown by more than 1,000 percent to more than $138 million.