Grower-shippers of Thanksgiving favorites such as sweet potatoes and cranberries expect ample supplies and good quality this year.

While other sweet potato-growing regions have been hit hard by inclement weather, North Carolina has had a banner year, said Jimmy Burch, partner in Burch Farms Inc., Faison, N.C.

Ample supplies of holiday favorites expected

Burch Farms expects to ship about 1.25 million bushels this year, up to 12% more than in 2008-09, ensuring ample volumes for Thanksgiving pull, Burch said.

“It’s one of the best crops we’ve had in years,” he said. “We didn’t get killed like those poor guys in Mississippi. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”

Burch reported excellent skin condition and overall good quality on the company’s crop, which is 100% covingtons this year. Size profile was average, he said.

Because of the weather-related problems further south, Thanksgiving markets should be strong for sweet potato shippers, Burch said.

“The price went up $1 this week just because of what’s happening in Louisiana and Mississippi,” Burch said Oct. 21. “There will be excellent demand, excellent prices (for sweet potatoes slated for Thanksgiving).”

While the 40-pound box will be the industry standard as usual this holiday season, convenience bags will continue to play a big role, Burch said.

“A lot of retailers are going with 3-pounders, something cheap for the holidays,” he said.

Three-pound bags of sweet potatoes have been retailing for as little as $1.59 this season, Burch said.

On Oct. 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $15-16 for 40-pound cartons of No. 1 orange sweet potatoes from North Carolina, comparable to last year at the same time.

Supplies of another holiday favorite, cranberries, should be ample this year, said Scott Simmons, general manager of fresh fruit for Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., Middleboro, Mass.

“Ocean Spray cranberries will be plentiful this Thanksgiving, with volumes slightly ahead of this point last year,” he said.

As of Oct. 21, Ocean Spray was still shipping fresh product from all four of its growing regions: the Pacific Northwest, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Quebec, Simmons said.

Simmons reported good quality on the 2009 crop, especially on varieties that will be packed fresh for Thanksgiving pull. Ocean Spray expects to market fresh fruit in 12-ounce and 3-pound bags for the holiday.

Despite the expected higher volumes, Ocean Spray is still advising consumers to buy two bags – one for Thanksgiving, and another to freeze for Christmas or other December uses, Simmons said.

To drive fresh sales this year, retailers will cross-promote product with Ocean Spray’s juice line, he said. Coupons on juice bottles can be instantly redeemed for $1 off a packaged of fresh cranberries. 

On Oct. 20, the USDA reported prices of $35-36 for cartons of 24 12-ounce film bags of early black cranberries from Massachusetts, up from $34 last year at the same time.

Despite some early rumblings from Old Man Winter this season, ample volumes of Idaho potatoes should be available for Thanksgiving promotions, said Kevin Stanger, vice president of sales and marketing for Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Idaho.

“There may be some minor areas in the northern section that may have a little bit of a problem (from snow and cold weather), but overall in the state, it looks like a good-quality crop, and there should be ample supplies,” Stanger said Oct. 21.

And demand, he said, should be strong.

“A lot of guys are starting to get ads written up now,” Stanger said. “From what we’re seeing, we think we’ll have great holiday pull. Potatoes are a great buy right now.”

Thanksgiving sales typically tilt toward “big horses” like 10-pound russet bags, Stanger said. Specialty packs and spuds are used more to generate interest in the category between holidays, he said.

On Oct. 20, the USDA reported a price of $7 for 50-pound cartons of russets 40-100s from Idaho, down from $14 last year at the same time.