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Wada Farms on the value of offering multiple sweet potato varieties

Shane Watt, director of sweet potatoes for Wada Farms Marketing Group in Idaho Falls, ID, and Mac Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Category Partners LLC, a retail-service marketing arm owned by Wada Farms, are working together to help retailers understand the strong sweet potato trends and to assist them in expanding their lines to take advantage of the great opportunities that the product offers today.

“We capture a lot of information and data on consumer insights and category performance,” said Mr. Johnson. “Shane and I talk with retailers and try to convince them to devote more time and space to their sweet potato category.”

Dollar sales on sweet potatoes, Mr. Johnson said, are up by 2.4 percent, and unit sales are up per pound, and that’s no longer relegated to holiday sales.

“The holidays are still key, but sweet potatoes have started to gain year-round acceptance,” he said. “This is encouraging to not only producers, but certainly for retailers. We’re asking retailers to devote space to the item on a year-round basis.”

Increasingly more retailers are offering bags of sweet potatoes in addition to the bulk displays that they’ve offered for years. The majority of the mesh bags that Wada Farms packs carry the “Dole” label.

“We pack four- to nine-ounce size potatoes in the mesh bag,” Mr. Watt added. “But we will also accommodate special requests. Some retailers are asking for 10- to 16-ounce sizes.

“We’ve been bagging sweet potatoes under the ‘Dole’ label since 2008,” he continued. “And we have promoted them along with our russet potato program. One retailer promoted both Idaho russets and sweet potatoes in the same bin and had great success. There’s no limit to the ways they can be promoted.”

Getting retailers to carry more than one sweet potato variety is also the goal of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Watt.

“We’ve explained to retailers that they can increase their sales by carrying two or more varieties,” said Mr. Johnson. “Our point-of-sale materials describe the varieties and how to use them. If retailers give the category good space next to other potatoes, consumers are drawn to the different colors.”

“Cooking and food networks and media venues are giving unique sweet potato varieties a lot more press today,” said Mr. Watt. “The top sellers are the Beauregard, Covington, Red Diane and Garnets. The O’Henry and the Japanese purple skin and flesh varieties are also gaining in popularity. There’s a lot retailers can do with this outstanding mix of sweet potatoes to draw attention to them.”

Together, the two men have gained additional retail interest, and they said that dollar and unit sizes are growing. They bring the information to retailers at trade shows and by meeting with them at their stores.

Wada Farms and Category Partners will be on hand at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Atlanta in October at booth number 527.

Mr. Watt said that all crops are looking very good this year based on everything the company is hearing from its growing partners in Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and California.

“There has been very little loss caused by excessive rains this year,” he said. “Some areas had some drought conditions, but overall it’s looking like a great crop in quality, and yields are about average. We’re looking forward to a great year with sweet potatoes.”