North Carolina SweetPotato Commission continues strong promotions

The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, based in Smithfield, NC, is combating the U.S. trend to eat sweet potatoes only on Thanksgiving and other holidays through a promotional campaign targeting numerous markets.

The commission is an independent, member-based nonprofit commodity group. Its membership, now over 400 strong, is comprised of growers who farm a minimum of one acre of sweet potatoes in the state.

"We produce more sweet potatoes than any other state -- nearly 40 percent of the annual [domestic] supply," said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director the commission. "The annual consumption of sweet potatoes in the country is 4.7 pounds per person, and the majority of the consumption is on Thanksgiving Day every year."

But Ms. Johnson-Langdon said that the holiday-only trend is changing. Thanks to the strong media attention the product is receiving and the heavy promotion and marketing done by producers, distributors, commissions, councils and others, sweet potatoes are making regular appearances on restaurant and foodservice operation menus, as well as on home dinner tables -- and on a year-round basis.

Ms. Johnson-Langdon is an outstanding proponent of the sweet potato industry. Her efforts to get the commission's message out to retailers, foodservice operators and consumers have proven highly successful. She promotes sweet potatoes across the United States and in Europe with an unequaled amount of tenacity and determination. This year's marketing efforts are as strong as those in past years.

"We have several new programs," she said. "Besides exhibiting at trade shows, we also send out about 500 press releases to the media on a regular basis that help to keep the press and related entities updated on important information related to sweet potatoes."

Much of the commission's recent attention and focus has been, however, on promoting sweet potatoes in the United Kingdom.

"We have been shipping North Carolina sweet potatoes to the U.K. for a few years, but shipments have more than doubled in the past year alone," said Ms. Johnson-Langdon. The British consider sweet potatoes an exotic vegetable, and see the item as sexy and trendy. American's nostalgia places sweet potatoes on the Thanksgiving table, but consumers in the United Kingdom have no such memory. They also like to incorporate the item into savory dishes as opposed to the candied recipes that are traditional in the United States. For example, recipes such as curried sweet potatoes or risotto with sweet potatoes are popular among the British. They also do a lot of baking with the item, such as including it in bread pudding.

Ms. Johnson-Langdon traveled with some associates to exhibit at The Restaurant Show in London, which ran from Sept. 19-21. The commission's chef, Brent McIntire, was in attendance and prepared recipes. He also provided tips on how to choose product, how to handle and store sweet potatoes, and he offered preparation techniques.

"It was a chef-to-chef experience," said Ms. Johnson- Langdon. "We received a very favorable reaction, and many people said we were the hit of the show. In all, about 9,000 people from around the world visited our booth." The commission is also having great success with its "North Carolina Sweet Potato Recipe Club. Ms. Johnson-Langdon said that it is a consumer-driven program that provides 80 three- by five-inch recipe cards, mailed by post, and if consumers request it, a quarterly newsletter.

"The club was kicked off in July of this year and it was successful from the start," she said. "Our first mailings exceeded 3,000 membership packages. We also included a questionnaire, and we have received a return of about 2 percent - a high return for this type of survey. The club continues to enjoy great success through daily signups on our web site. There are no membership restrictions, and we invite everyone to join and enjoy the benefits."

The commission's newsletters are packed with valuable information. The fall edition featured Shawn Wellersdick, chef and co-owner of the Port Land Grille in Wilmington, NC, and Sara Foster, chef-owner of Foster's Market in Durham, NC, and Chapel Hill, NC, and several other top chefs in the state. The bulletins also include recipes, a Q&A on sweet potato issues to which Ms. Johnson-Langdon personally responds, discussions of harvesting topics and information on the nutritional aspects of sweet potatoes.

Regarding the 2005 sweet potato crop in North Carolina, Ms. Johnson-Langdon said that acreage is down by 5-6 percent, and the harvest was delayed a bit because of the dry weather. However, early indications are that the quality will be very good this year. Because last year's crop was the largest ever recorded, grower-shippers will be able to compensate for the shortage with existing supplies. The environmental storage systems used today will keep sweet potatoes for up to 15 months and still deliver them as fresh as the day they were harvested.

A few years ago, the commission developed an advisory board comprised of chefs from throughout North Carolina. Ms. Johnson-Langdon said that 13 chefs now serve on the board. Chef-members support North Carolina sweet potatoes by developing recipes and offering them on their menus. They also help to promote the item as representatives in chef cook-offs, special media appearances and other venues in the state and when they travel.

The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission continues with its many other projects and involvements, and it constantly works on finding new ways to promote the product in the United States as well as around the world. It also continues to fund research conducted at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh for a sweet potato breeding program. The work is carried on at the school's Micopropagation Center, where weed, pest management and horticulture practices are developed.

One thing is certain: As long as Sue Johnson-Langdon is involved, there will always be new projects and programs in the works at the commission, and North Carolina sweet potatoes will continue to enjoy strong and effective promotional and marketing campaigns.

(A full report on sweet potatoes appears in the Oct. 24 issue of The Produce News.)

Stemilt to use 5 A Day character to champion apples

Stemilt Growers, based in Wenatchee, WA, rolled out a health-conscious program earlier this fall with a red-apple mascot at the helm touting the antioxidant richness in apples.

Roger Pepperl, Stemilt marketing director, said that 5 A Day's character, Raoul, whose winning smile and bright-red color appeals to both kids and adults, is the cheerleader for Stemilt apples Core of Healthy Living campaign. Stemilt selected the character to be the icon for its fall program from a cast of five Color Way Champions created by 5 A Day and the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

PBH introduced the characters this summer to represent color groupings for fruits and vegetables. Red, white, yellow-orange, blue-purple and green make up the color groups. PBH uses the characters to help consumers remember to eat from each color group daily.

Stemilt adopted Raoul, who represents red fruits and vegetables, to adorn tote bags, mesh bags, display cards and shelf danglers from Stemilt. Mr. Pepperl said that the program helps retailers teach consumers that apples and good health go together. Recent apple research supports this, especially regarding the high antioxidant content of apples.

Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize harmful free radicals of oxygen produced when cells burn oxygen for energy. If left unchecked, free radicals cause cumulative cell damage that may lead to cancer, or in the case of brain cells, Alzheimers, Parkinsons or other age-related mental decline.

In June, USA Today published a story about a Canadian study that compared eight different apple varieties and found antioxidants in all varieties, especially in red-colored apples. Conducted by Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, the study found that most antioxidants in apples are found in the peel.

This summer, Psychology Today also published an article about the quercetin content in apples. Quercetin is a flavonoid believed to be an antioxidant. In the study, rats that consumed quercetin were protected from neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Food scientist Chang Y. Lee, who conducted the research and was quoted in the article, said that other foods such as tea and onions also have quercetin. But, he added, "How much onion can you eat in a day?"

Stemilts Core of Healthy Living kits each contain three shelf danglers and three display cards. All materials, including tote bags and mesh-bag headers, carry the slogan, Powerful antioxidants in every bite.

SenaReider putting tomatoes on TV

Advertising agency SenaReider, with offices in San Francisco and Monterey, CA, announced that it has developed a national consumer TV campaign for the Florida Tomato Committee touting the health benefits of Florida tomatoes.

The work is the first TV branding ever done for tomatoes, and Florida grows more of them than any other state, according to the agency.

Lou Sena, agency account director, said, "The spots may emphasize how good these tomatoes are for you. But we have some fun with the idea, delivering the health message in a way that busts through the noise on TV. Who says you can't be memorable with just a tomato and a white background?"

The four spots will air on Discovery Health, the Food Network and Home & Garden Television beginning Jan. 2 to coincide with the start of the new year  a time when people are resolving to change their eating habits for the better.

Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo opens facility in Vernon

More space, more coolers, faster loading and secure grounds are just some of the reasons organic grower-shipper Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo has a new address in Vernon, CA.

The company relocated its Los Angeles warehouse, packing and distribution operation Sept. 1, taking over more than half of a facility which formerly served as a Whole Foods distribution center.

"The move to this well-outfitted, more modern facility will definitely increase our efficiency overall and allow us to better serve our customers," said Rob Jacobs, vice president of sales and marketing.

Among the many advantages of the move are additional coolers with more space, which will facilitate the multi- temperature storage and handling of Del Cabo's tomatoes, vegetables and basil, and Jacobs Farms culinary herbs. The increase in cooler space is definitely going to help our herb pack out, said Jesse Vera, general manager of the Vernon operation. As in our South San Francisco distribution center, we can maintain the cold chain and extend shelf life by packing herbs at their optimum temperatures. Another big advantage of this new space is the addition of more loading docks. The increase to 10 loading doors with levelers allows us to load faster, with more efficiency.

Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo, based in Pescadero, CA, was founded in 1980 and is now celebrating its 25th anniversary.

S. C. World Trade Center and WTC of Greater Philadelphia work together for hurricane relief

Rev. Willis T. Goodwin, a member of the South Carolina World Trade Center, and David M. Webster, a member of the World Trade Center of Greater Philadelphia, recently worked together to help Hurricane Katrina victims reduce flyborne illnesses.

Rev. Goodwin, in cooperation with the Twin City Out Reach Mission, purchased a large number of non-toxic fly traps from Mr. Webster of AgraCo Technologies. Rev. Goodwin made the purchase to help reduce the fly epidemic caused by the flooding and waste caused by Hurricane Katrina.

According to Rev. Goodwin, "The people in the hurricane devastated areas will soon have plenty of food and water. What we are trying to do is prevent the fly population from ravaging the area and spreading diseases."

Each of AgraCo Technologies' non-toxic fly traps can hold over 20,000 flies. On TV and broadcast on the radio were a number of stories about how bad the fly problem was getting in Louisiana and Mississippi, said Mr. Webster. Some people interviewed while they were cleaning up stated that they could not even pile up their trash near their front curb because of the fly infestation. We know that our non- toxic fly traps are effective. We support Rev. Goodwins efforts.

Mr. Webster and Rev. Goodwin met last year in Geneva, Switzerland, during a World Trade Center conference. The World Trade Centers are an excellent organization to belong to. They believe in supporting World Peace through trade, said Mr. Webster. We look forward to working with other relief agencies as well who could also use our non-toxic fly traps in disaster areas, refugee camps and anyplace needed to reduce diseases caused by flies.

For more information, visit AgraCo Technologies at www.agraco.com.