NCSPC on a mission to grow sweetpotato interest
The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission Inc., is a nonprofit corporation made up of over 400 sweetpotato growers along with the packers, processors and business associates that support them.
CoCo Daughtry, communications specialist for the company, noted the sole purpose of the commission is to increase sweetpotato consumption through education, promotional activities, research and honorable horticultural practices among its producers.
“At the NCSPC, everything we do starts with our producers in mind,” she said. “Research initiatives include varietal breeding, chemical application research showing effects on sweetpotato storage roots, further development in yield, quality, and production of clean seed stock.”
The commission recently hired Michelle Grainger, who spent 20 years working with Fortune 500 companies in the area of innovation management, business models, and business processes, as its new executive director.
One of the biggest pushes the NCSPC made for the 2020-21 season is its STEM-oriented K-12 curriculum.
“By working ag education into the classroom, we can keep sweetpotatoes top of mind for students, teachers and parents, and hopefully capture an entirely new generation of sweetpotato consumers in the process,” said Daughtry.
“Last fall we were able to publish 19 lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students, and we are working on more,” she continued. “The curriculum was written by North Carolina teachers with a focus on STEM education.”
Another highlight for 2020 was the completion of the NCSPC’s Retail Registered Dietitian Toolkit.
“We are currently working behind the scenes to build out a Registered Dietitian section on our website to host not only a downloadable version of this wealth of information but to include downloadable (and free) Monthly Teaching Tools to assist in sharing our sweet message of health to RDs and consumers who are looking for information,” Daughtry said.
One area of concern for sweetpotato producers this past year was the retaliatory tariffs imposed by the EU on U.S. imports.
“Last fall, the WTO authorized the EU retaliatory tariffs on $4 billion of U.S. goods which included sweetpotatoes among many of our country’s premium commodities,” Grainger said.
“These tariffs, if not reversed, could lead to significant loss to not only the sweetpotato industry in our state but to all of the premium, commodities included nationwide,” she added.
Additionally, with the onset of COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders, the loss of foodservice, including schools and hospitality sales coupled with the overall disruption in the food supply chain, created many issues for North Carolina producers.
“Producers who were able to pivot and glean alternate sales were able to hold steady by taking advantage of USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program and selling directly to consumers and retailers alike while waiting for hospitality sales to pick back up,” Grainger said. “Thankfully, for many, the hospitality and service industry is not entirely shut down and maintains gradual growth back into the marketplace.”
According to Daughtry, the biggest trend in the sweetpotato category is variations to value-added products starting with fresh product such as spiralized ribbons, cubes, and fresh cuts, not to mention other places sweetpotatoes are making noise throughout the supermarket such as baked goods, flour, syrups, puree, baby food, both canned and in the first bites finger foods.
“We find sweetpotatoes in snack foods, chips, and gummies, we find them in the pet food aisle in dry as well as canned food and treats,” she said.
“You can even find sweetpotatoes serving as frozen pizza crusts, smoothies, sweetener for juice boxes, V-8 juice, soups and so much more. The sweet thing is, you are only limited by imagination.”
Daughtry would love to see retailers — both in the U.S. and around the globe — highlight the producers of sweetpotatoes in the produce sections of their stores.
“We would like to collaborate with retailers as they highlight our producers and their families,” she said.
“After all, farm families are consumers too and they want the best not only for their families but for consumers too. Finally, it would be exciting, for retailers to utilize the many resources we have created and are available for free to further feature the sweetpotato to their customers through nutritional facts and easy recipe preparation education.”