In response to demand from its customers, Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Fresh is starting a year-round sweet potato program for the Western U.S., complete with additions to its value-added product line.

The company, which sources sweet potatoes from North Carolina and Louisiana, recently signed a deal with a Bakersfield, California-based sweet potato grower to make its program year-round.

Wilcox Fresh to go year-round on sweet potatoes

Courtesy Wilcox Fresh

Wilcox Fresh displayed some of its new California sweet potatoes at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit Oct. 2-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

Cartons and retail packs will be shipped from California, said Lynn Wilcox, president.

Wilcox Fresh will pull the smaller sizes and add a product to its Potato Jazz line of microwaveable baby and fingerling potatoes that will be packed in Idaho.

“We should have a baby sweet potato in the Jazz line in three to six months,” Wilcox said.

Starting this fall, the sweet potatoes are available in 3-pound retail packs and in cartons. The company also plans to use the new program to make its shipments more efficient by cross-docking with onions and other potatoes.

“We had a customer challenge us to supply year-round on the west side of the country, and we were able to find that source,” Wilcox said.

Onni Lufkin, category manager and sales and marketing for Wilcox Fresh, said sweet potatoes are becoming a more popular commodity.

“They’re really kind of exploding,” Lufkin said. “When people used to think of sweet potatoes, they thought of Thanksgiving, but I don’t’ think that’s how it is anymore.”

Wilcox said although sweet potatoes do provide a little bit of competition for Idaho’s classic russet potato, it does more good for the category than it does harm.

“Sweet potatoes, reds and yellows do displace some volume in russets, but they also create some enthusiasm in potatoes,” Wilcox said. “We need to create a little excitement.”

Wilcox said the company plans to expand the sweet potato program, but wants to manage and control that growth with an eye on quality.