What rising US sweet potato consumption means for manufacturers
- Sweet potato consumption has doubled in the United States since 2002, from 3.7 pounds per consumer in 2002 to 7.5 pounds in 2015, according to USDA data.
- Americans still eat far more white potatoes, but demand is slowing. Consumption of white potatoes fell from 125.4 pounds per person a decade ago to 113.7 pounds last year.
- Value-added products, such as pre-cut cubes and fries, are driving sweet potato demand growth more than raw sweet potatoes. There was an 18% increase in volume sales for value-added products, compared to 3.2% for retail sales and 2.6% for produce overall, according to Nielsen data.
Once primarily thought of as a holiday casserole dish, sweet potatoes are now appearing in everything from dog food to vodka and desserts. Manufacturers capitalize on sweet potatoes' fewer calories and higher fiber content than white potatoes. The orange tubers also have other nutrients, such as the antioxidant beta carotene, which gives sweet potatoes their bright color.
Sweet potatoes especially appeal to health-conscious consumers who want to eat fewer grains and processed foods. Adding sweet potatoes to canned soups, frozen meals and smoothies or juice drinks are one way manufacturers could generate interest in struggling products, or further drive and capitalize on growth for others.
However, the growth of sweet potatoes could pose a challenge to manufacturers that primarily use white potatoes in their products.
ConAgra recently announced the executives to lead Lamb Weston, the frozen potato products portfolio the company is spinning off from its consumer brands business. Lamb Weston does offer a line of frozen sweet potato products, called Sweet Things, but white potatoes make up a vast majority of its portfolio. ConAgra has invested in expanding Lamb Weston production over the past year, though it's unclear what, if any, of that expansion is specifically for sweet potatoes.