Sweet potatoes have been appearing in so many foods and beverages around the world that products using the vegetable posted a 21% compound annual growth rate from 2015 to 2018, according to Innova Market Insights.
Baby foods comprised 14% of new launches during that time, with cakes, pastries and sweet goods, vegetables, ready meals, cassava and other root-based snacks, and gummies and jellies also showing big gains, the research company found.
Shifts in dietary and nutritional preferences are part of the reason behind this growth, with consumers switching out white potatoes for healthier options, Innova said. Sweet potatoes contain more vitamin A and vitamin C and fiber than white potatoes. They're also rich in beta-carotene and have a lower glycemic index.
As consumers look to eat healthier, it's no wonder that the sweet potato is more popular than ever. Besides the lure of its healthy nutritional profile, the growth in the popular spud comes from its increasing use as a natural red color alternative to carmine, which is made from crushed cochineal insects. Manufacturers using carmine to color their products can't label them as vegetarian or vegan, so sweet potatoes are becoming another coloring option.
Consumers in general are looking for food items offering less-processed ingredients, and plant-sourced colors are a big part of that trend. For baked goods, candy and other products, sweet potato-based colors could help shift formulations toward more natural ingredients. A GNT global consumer survey found 79% of consumers define "natural" as being made without artificial colors.
The root vegetable also lends a natural sweetness to products, which may be why it's showing up more often in baby food. Innova noted some other food products featuring sweet potatoes include ice cream, waffles, cake and hummus. Several companies now offer products with the root vegetable. Post Holdings' Bob Evans brand offers Mashed Sweet Potatoes as a side dish, PepsiCo's Bare Foods sells sweet potato chips, Jackson's Honest makes both chips and sweet potato puffs, and Kidfresh puts sweet potatoes in its cheese burritos.
Because of this burgeoning popularity among consumers, more sweet potatoes are being planted, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics Innova cited. Between 2012 and 2017, the acreage devoted to sweet potatoes jumped 37.6%, which was the biggest increase for any vegetable crop the USDA tracks.
Another factor likely to increase the overall supply of sweet potatoes is a newer Canadian variety called Radiance that has a shorter growing season. Innova said this means the root vegetable's global footprint could be expanded beyond the humid subtropical to tropical climates where it is traditionally grown to include more temperate regions.
As a result of all these advantageous factors, the introduction of new food and beverage products containing sweet potatoes is likely to continue.