Farm Fresh Produce looks to a promising sweet potato season
Over the years, Farm Fresh Produce has established an outstanding reputation for providing its customers with excellent produce, and sweet potatoes are one of the key products that has made the company a success.
“We plan on growing and marketing 4,000 acres of sweet potatoes this year, which includes 2,000 acres of our own product,” said Steven Ceccarelli, president of Farm Fresh Produce, headquartered in Faison, NC.
He added that while the company handles some sweet potato crops for the spring and summer, fall is the key to its sweet potato dealings, which accounts for 90 percent of Farm Fresh Produce’s overall business.
“I would say a good 85 percent of that is export for the most part, but going forward, we’ve made some investments here this year to really put ourselves in a position if we do want to start working on the U.S. side on retail,” Ceccarelli said.
Recently, the value-added products are boosting the sweet potato category within the United States, including bagged sweet potatoes and microwavable sweet potatoes, both individually wrapped and in steamer bags.
“We’ve made the investments for that equipment so that we can go in and out there to go get some retail business on the home front in North America, so to speak,” Ceccarelli said, adding that equipment includes weighers, baggers, and sealers for individually wrapped microwavable potatoes.
“There’s also a lot of trays where they’re doing, say three sweet potatoes on a tray that can be microwaved—they’re wrapped for microwaving. Or they’re just presented that way and we’re basically selling three individual sweet potatoes on a tray,” Ceccarelli said. “There are certain retailers that are doing that.”
As the calender heads to October, 2022 has been a good year for Farm Fresh Produce so far.
“The projections showed 15 percent growth this year over last year so we can’t complain,” Ceccarelli said. “We just had to do a lot more on the volume side to make up for that growth because the prices aren’t the same compared to last year.”
One factor that has helped with sales for the company is social media, which he says is helping to spread the word about sweet potatoes, including their versatility.
“A lot of people are amazed at just how many different uses there are for the sweet potato, it’s unbelievable,” Ceccarelli said. “They’re making sweet potato flower now, so that if you have a gluten allergy or can’t eat wheat, they’re replacing regular wheat flour with sweet potato and you’re not sacrificing in terms of taste.”
And while the produce industry is dealing with its fair share of challenges, including issues with labor and shipping costs, Ceccarelli said the sweet potato season holds a lot of promise, as crops are looking good.
“We’ve had some periods where we’ve had some drought, but rain has been appearing as needed here, so things are looking very positive that we’ll be able to achieve a decent yield to be able to hopefully overcome a lot of extra costs we’re having to input this year,” he said.
That’s promising news for Farm Fresh Produce, as it looks to build on its sweet potato business.