U.S. sweet potato shippers and officials expect promotable supplies of high-quality product heading into spring and summer.

Retail sales were fairly flat in mid-January, which isn’t unusual during the post-Christmas lull, said Jimmy Burch Jr., partner in Faison, N.C.-based Burch Farms Inc.

“It’s normal for January and February,” he said Jan. 18.

Retail aside, demand for sweet potato fries at foodservice was giving the deal a big boost in January, Burch said.

“The french fry business has really been going crazy,” he said. “They wait until January and February, when the sugars are high.”

Strong foodservice demand helps keep off-grade sweet potatoes out of the retail market, Burch said.

Some areas of North Carolina that received more rainfall during the growing season are reporting higher percentages of jumbos, but Burch Farms’ size profile is about typical this year, Burch said.

Burch also reported normal weekly volume  shipments to retail in mid-January.

Looking ahead, Burch doesn’t expect prices to change much before Easter.

On Jan. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $14-16 for 40-pound boxes of orange variety No. 1s from North Carolina, down from $16-18 last year at the  same time.

In Louisiana, growers are reporting depressed prices because of a large North Carolina crop, said Rene Simon, director of the Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission.

“But we’re hoping for a good spring, and hoping to get a premium price for Louisiana sweet potatoes,” Simon said Jan. 18.

Louisiana shippers were shipping mainly beauregards in the New Year, though many growers were reporting increasing demand for the evangeline variety.

“It’s sweeter and has a darker orange flesh,” Simon said. “It’s increasing in popularity, but it’s harder to grow.”

Growers were reporting slightly higher volumes than last season, and better quality, Simon said.

“We have good supplies of No. 1s for the fresh market,” he said.