This news comes on the heels of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) just-released Census of Agriculture which revealed that the amount of acreage devoted to sweet potatoes expanded 37.6% in the U.S. for the period from 2012 to 2017, far and away the biggest increase for any vegetable crop measured by the USDA.
The rise of the sweet potato reflects a major shift in global diet and nutritional preferences with consumers embracing “healthy swaps” that replace foods like white potatoes with more healthful alternatives. Sweet potatoes offer significantly higher levels of vitamins A and C than white potatoes, are rich in beta-carotene, have slightly more fiber than white potatoes, and also have a lower glycemic index.
Robust new product growth
The baby meals category accounted for 14% of new sweet potato launches over the 2015 to 2018 period, the highest share for any category measured, according to Innova Market Insights. But launch growth was especially robust in five additional categories, each racking up CAGR gains of 25% or more over the period: cakes, pastries & sweet goods, vegetables, ready meals, cassava and other root-based snacks, and gummies/jellies.
A confectionery category like gummies or jellies seems like an odd place for sweet potato, but that is an indication of how sweet potato is catching on as a natural, clean label food coloring” says Fairport, NY-based Tom Vierhile, VP of Strategic Insights North America for Innova Market Insights.
“Sweet potato is increasingly used as a base ingredient for natural red color alternatives to carmine, a food coloring derived from insects” says Vierhile. “Food makers that use carmine cannot label their products as ‘vegan’, an increasingly attractive designation for consumers seeking to reduce or eliminate animal-based products in the diet. This is helping sweet potato gain traction in food ingredients like food colors.”
A broad swath of innovation
New product innovations showcasing sweet potatoes include Birds Eye Sweet Potato Waffles, a recent U.K. launch hailed as a “trendy twist on a family favorite” that can be heated in a toaster. Sweet potato has proven to have a sweet tooth in markets like Japan and South Korea where you’ll see it in new products like Haagen-Dazs Mini Cup Sweet Potato Tart Ice Cream and Lotte Custard Cake with Sweet Potato Cream Filling. Sweet potato is even enhancing the perceived health value of foods already viewed as healthful. That’s the case with Lantana Limited Edition Sweet Potato Hummus, a U.S. launch for the fall season.
Innovation in plant breeding is setting the stage for wider penetration of sweet potatoes
Cultivation of sweet potatoes has traditionally been limited to humid subtropical to tropical climates, the former in U.S states like North Carolina and Louisiana which provide the 120 to 150 days to maturity that sweet potatoes require. But even that is changing, with the potential to broaden the global footprint of sweet potato.
Canadian researchers recently announced the availability of a new variety of sweet potato called Radiance that matures in as little as 100 days – fast enough to harvest in the Niagara Region of the country. Assuming Radiance and other faster-maturing sweet potato varieties like it catch on, the sweet potato story seems destined to add additional chapters in more temperate regions around the globe.