Kim Matthews, who with her husband, Terris, owns Matthews Ridgeview Farms in Wynne, AR, told The Produce News that the company had an awesome sales year with the current crop.
“The crop was good — not bumper — but good,” she said. “But we did have an outstanding sales year. As of late January we had about 55 percent of the crop remaining in storage. Our projections are that we will have a tight run of supplies when the 2013 harvest starts the first week of September.”
Matthews Ridgeview Farms is one of the larger sweet potato growers in the state of Arkansas, and it functions as both a farmer and a broker.
Ms. Matthews said the company increased its acreage by about 15 percent last year. “That’s a normal increase for us,” she noted. “We aren’t ones to haphazardly double our acreage and risk getting into a mess. We increase so that we can take care of our customers and add enough to service new customers.”
The company’s stored sweet potatoes, she said, are in great condition. The company added coolers to its operation in the past year. Its sweet potatoes are maintained in controlled-atmosphere storage.
The company also made a major staff change in 2012.
“We hired Sam Gilbert as our full-time food-safety coordinator,” said Ms. Matthews. “She joined us in September 2012 full time, but she had been working for us on a part-time basis before then.”
Matthews Ridgeview Farms has been GlobalGAP certified for five years, and it will continue to maintain the status. The company currently exports to Canada, and its customers are retailers, wholesalers, foodservice operators and processors.
“The market in the U.S. and Canada is so strong today that we have not had to pursue other potential export markets,” said Ms. Matthews. “But we stay tuned into what is going on with sweet potatoes in all corners of the world.”
The popular Beauregard sweet potato continues to be the company’s strength, but it also produces some Evangeline and it dabbles in Covington varieties.
“We are also trying some of the new Orleans variety, and a new white Bonita sweet potato variety. This is a small niche market, but it allows us to try out new items.”
Ms. Matthews said that she is a seat-of-the-pants cook, and she likes to try combining white potatoes with sweet potatoes and other ingredients for a family meal — oftentimes with terrific results. The company’s website, www.arsweetpotatoes.com, offers an array of sweet potato recipes, and it is active in social media to help promote its high-quality products. Ms. Matthews said that the company’s bagged and wrapped sweet potatoes are always popular consumer choices.
“A woman from Michigan called me just yesterday,” she said. “She wanted to tell me how much she loved our sweet potatoes and our recipes. That makes all the hard work we do here worth it.”
Mr. and Ms. Matthews are fifth-generation sweet potato growers, but Matthews Ridgeview Farms was only formed a few years ago.
“Terris’ father, David, works with us,” said Ms. Matthews. “He is here every day with his hands in every aspect, including driving a digger. His wife, Mickie, is semi-retired, but she also comes to the office to help out with administration tasks.”
Matthews Ridgeview Farms’ dedication to family is also apparent in its packaging. Its “Fifth Generation” label design is a photo of the couple’s daughters, Jaylie and Taycie, sitting on a bale of hay, each holding an armful of sweet potatoes. Ms. Matthews said that consumers today really want to know where their food is coming from, and they like the idea of buying from a true family farm.
Future plans for the company include expansion.
“We’re looking at some different avenues of expansion,” said Ms. Matthews. “At this point we’re not sure how or when, but we do know that we’ll be growing our company.
“For now, however, we are very thankful for all of our great customers and we want to continue to serve them to the best of our ability,” she said. “That and providing them with great quality is what we will continue to build our business on.”