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Nash Produce continues run of sweet success

When it comes to produce in North Carolina, sweet potatoes are No. 1, and one of the key players is Nash Produce.

Tami Long, director of marketing and business development for Nash Produce, based in Nashville, NC, said the company’s relationship with the state includes serving on the board of the Sweet Potato Commission and working with the Department of Agriculture.

Mr-Yam-bags-on-boardMr. Yam’s branded sweet potatoes from Nash Produce. “All of our sweet potatoes are North Carolina-grown,” Long said. “Everything that we distribute was grown in the state of North Carolina. We distribute throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom”

Nash Produce supports local supermarkets in North Carolina, and also ships to third parties for pet food as well as canned and processed sweet potatoes.

“We pretty much ship everywhere and anywhere that you can think of,” she said.

Long said North Carolina’s soil and climate are excellent for sweet potatoes. Another factor is that farmers rotate crops, and rotating sweet potatoes with crops such as tobacco makes for a richer soil, which offers a better flavor for the product.

Another part of Nash Produce’s work is curing sweet potatoes.

“You can eat a sweet potato fresh out of the dirt but it will taste different,” Long said. “When it’s cured, it tightens up the skin and it releases starches, which makes the sweet potatoes sweeter.”

She added that more people — millennials especially — are gravitating towards them because they want to live healthier lifestyles.

“Sweet potatoes are considered a super food,” Long said. “They’re incredibly healthy and low in calories — without toppings — and so versatile in what they can be used in. Everybody’s trying to be healthy so as a result, sweet potatoes are increasing in popularity.”

The most popular sweet potato is the Covington, which has the characteristics most people think of when they hear the term “sweet potato.” The Covington is brown with orange flesh.

Another variety Nash offers is the Murasaki, which is purple on the outside, white on the inside.

“They are hugely popular, just because they’re different and they are a little bit sweeter,” Long said.

Her personal favorite sweet potato is the Bonita.

“They’re kind of a light tan skin with a white flesh inside,” she said. “If you look at one, you would think it’s a baked potato, but it has the flavor of a sweet potato. They are also are smoother in texture than other sweet potatoes.”

For fans of the Murasaki, Long warns that Nash Produce will likely run out sometime in the summer because of their popularity.

“But we did plant more of those last year as well, so we have a bigger storage of them right now,” Long said, adding that she is optimistic when looking at the forecast for this year.

“Business is good, demand is definitely up; we are shipping the same amount,” she said. “The problem is, the prices for sweet potatoes have dropped, and then with the added cost of trucks, and the new regulations on them, that’s kind of put a strain on everyone.”

Nash Produce’s commitment to quality can be taken from a story Long shared. A while back, she was testing spices and asked a friend to try it. Long gave her friend a sample and some sweet potatoes with which to make a recipe.

“She decided she wanted more sweet potatoes, so she went to the grocery store and bought some,” Long said. “She called me and said, ‘They don’t taste the same.’ I said, ‘Where did you buy them?” She said the chain and I said, ‘We don’t distribute to them.’”

The friend then told the store to buy sweet potatoes from Nash Produce.

“We take pride in our quality and our customer service, so those two things right there stand out for Nash Produce,” Long said.

Just as if people go to a restaurant and don’t like it, they won’t return, if people have a bad experience with sweet potatoes, it could prevent them from trying them again. Long said she once got a complaint about a bag with one bad potato in it, so she asked the customer where the bag was purchased.

“I answer every complaint, and fortunately we don’t get very many,” Long said. “But quality and customer service, if there is a problem, Nash produce will fix it, we are on it.”