Quail H Farms continues to see spring sweetpotato sales rise
Quail H Farms, LLC is considered one of the largest and most reputable sweetpotato growers-packer-shippers in the state of California, and its team is proud of the strong reputation it has developed since first starting operations in 2008.
“We are a sweetpotato shipper so spring sweetpotato movement is very important to us,” said Larelle Miller, sales manager for the Livingston, CA-based company. “I think historically, over 50 percent of the crop has been shipped in the October to December window for the holidays. In the past few years, that has changed. People are starting to recognize that sweetpotatoes are not just for winter holidays. By providing recipes and usage information to the consumer, we have seen a resurgence of spring and summer sweetpotato sales since the pandemic.”
Now in its 14th year with the category, Quail H Farms has found success by being able to adapt and innovate.
“It doesn’t hurt to have a monopoly on the supply chain either,” Miller said. “With the ‘silent’ acquisitions going on in California, the sales and shipping are in fewer hands and I think we will continue to see this as farming and packing costs soar and labor becomes more difficult.”
In 2021, the company saw an 8 percent increase in spring sales compared to 2020. And 2020 sales were 45 percent greater than 2019, growth that can be attributed to more people eating at home due to the pandemic.
“We had good yields with the 2021 crop and the product coming out of storage has been excellent,” Miller said. “Storage holdings are probably down 15-20 percent.”
One issue caused by the pandemic is more people were shopping from home.
“Online shopping in the U.S. limits the ‘impulse’ buys that we would normally see at the brick and mortar stores,” Miller said.
To rectify this, Miller would like to see more shelf space or more floor space for sweetpotatoes so those shopping in-store are more likely to try and buy.
“Building the sweetpotato category to be more like the potato or even the apple category in terms of display size and different pack styles,” she said. “Offer bags with recipes or preparation uses. Educate the consumer. That’s probably the biggest message. The shipper community, especially in sweetpotatoes, doesn’t have a big enough reach to educate the consumer, but the retailers do.”
Another change brought on by the pandemic was an evolution in packaging, as bags and overwrap trays have really taken off with sweetpotatoes.
One challenge for the sweetpotato category is being lumped in with potatoes and onions, and this can be frustrating to those in the industry.
“Farming, harvesting and packing sweetpotatoes and farming, harvesting and packing potatoes and onions are completely different,” Miller said. “I don’t think we get a fair shake when lumped into that buying category. It’s like putting asparagus on the wet-veg desk.”
Another challenge is rising costs, with Miller explaining that the cost to produce a 40-pound box of sweetpotatoes in California has increased 40 percent in the last eight years, yet there has not been a large increase in average FOB’s.
“With soaring costs in California, expanding and growing is not for the faint of heart,” Miller said. “Without contracts and commitments, it is riskier and riskier to be a sweetpotato grower-shipper. Mechanization in the packing shed is almost imminent, but it also a big commitment with a questionable ROI. But, that doesn’t keep us from having the necessary conversations.”