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"Our international promotion efforts are ongoing," said Sue Johnson- Langdon, affectionately known as "Sweet Sue," the executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, in Smithfield, NC. "We participated at Fruit Logistica in early February in Berlin through a company in the Netherlands that imports North Carolina sweet potatoes. Through this same company, we will be conducting sweet potato samplings in one of the smaller chain retailers in Germany."

Ms. Johnson-Langdon said that sweet potato demand continues to grow in Germany, and Scandinavian countries have expressed interest in the item. The council is considering these countries, especially in response to word that a grant program will be available.

"Demand in the United Kingdom also continues to grow," said Ms. Johnson- Langdon. "The growth is not exponential, but it's steady."

The NCSPC's public relations firm, Lewis & Neale in New York, has several programs in the works that are aimed at both consumers and the foodservice industry.

"We are doing a nutritional pitch that is focusing on diabetes," said Ms. Johnson-Langdon. "Press releases were sent to dieticians and dietary managers at foodservice operations.

"Another growing area of interest is among body builders," she continued. "Sweet potatoes are becoming quite popular with this group, and sweet potato coverage is beginning to show up in publications related to body building. This is an area we will continue to monitor closely."

One of fun projects that Lewis & Neale initiated to generate consumer press is to deliver media kit lunches to New York City editors of consumer magazines. Lunch bags were stocked with curried sweet potato apple soup, lettuce wraps stuffed with sweet potato ginger slaw and sweet potato biscotti, and were delivered to 12 major publications.

"The kits also contained a news release with recipes, a diabetes research report and Sassy Sweet Potatoes, our leaflet," said Ms. Johnson-Langdon. "We did get some direct response to the promotion."

The NCSPC's bloggers' recipe contest is going on now. Details are on the commission's web site, www. ncsweetpotatoes.com. Blogger entrees must create an original recipe using sweet potatoes as the key ingredient. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack recipes are welcome, and it is suggested that entries are quick, tasty and creative. The first place winner will receive a cash prize of $2,000, and three runners-up will receive $400 each.

The commission is also blogging on SweetBites.com, and it is now on Facebook and Twitter. Its web site has been recently renovated and is up and running with an entirely new fresh look.

"North Carolina is shipping a lot of sweet potatoes this year because of shortages in other states," noted Ms. Johnson-Langdon. "Demand is up and continues to grow. Produce trends regularly report the increase in demand. It's a strong year of growth for sweet potatoes."

(For more on sweet potatoes, see the March 22, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)