With low supplies and strong demand in parts of the Southern U.S., one might assume promotions are less important, but that’s not necessarily true.

Charles Walker, executive secretary for the U.S. Sweet Potato Council, Columbia, S.C., said the time is always right to call attention to sweet potatoes.

“You can still promote, even if crops are short,” Walker said. “We’re always looking for ways to increase demand.”

However, shippers do have to be careful with how they market or ship the remaining supplies, Walker said.

“They might have to allocate it,” he said. “They could run out of inventory before the new crop comes in.”

Mississippi downshifts

Some gear down promotional efforts when faced with a shortage. The Starkville-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council doesn’t plan to advertise in major publications this year, said Benny Graves, executive secretary.

It will run some advertisements in trade publications and on radio, and participate in festivals and local events.

Because of the state’s short supplies and the council’s smaller budget, the council has a limited amount of point-of-sales material available this year.

Maybe the sweet potato industry can afford to cut back on promotions, thanks to a campaign from a few years ago that drew a lot of attention.

George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., said he thinks demand for sweet potatoes continues to grow at least in part because Weight Watchers endorsed them as its Pick of the Season in the fall of 2006.

Graves said demand for sweet potatoes is strong, especially among consumers who are seeking to eat more healthfully.

Sweet potatoes also work well in various ethnic cuisines. Add the growing demand from foodservice for fresh-cut sweet potatoes, frozen fries and other processed items, and there are good opportunities for grower-shippers, Graves said.

White spud prices give a boost

Last year’s higher prices for white potatoes helped boost demand for sweet potatoes too, Wooten said. Shoppers who found sweet potatoes priced lower than white potatoes decided to try them instead.

North Carolina has a good-sized crop of sweet potatoes to market. Wayne E. Bailey provides some point-of-sales materials and offers ad programs to retailer customers.

The company also works with retailers to entice customers to buy sweet potatoes by highlighting their versatility and nutritional content.

Wooten said he used to see sweet potatoes in the supermarket available in only four ways, but now he sees them in more than two dozen ways, including fresh, frozen and dehydrated products.

Wooten said sweet potatoes are ingredients in a wide variety of supermarket products, including spaghetti sauce and children’s yogurt.

“They have great flavor, great color and versatility,” Wooten said. “You can fry, boil, bake or grill it.”

Increased visibility throughout the supermarket helps increase demand for fresh potatoes, Wooten said.

California skips promotions

California also has a good crop of sweet potatoes to promote. Even so, Livingston, Calif.-based cooperative California Sweet Potato Growers doesn’t engage in marketing.

General manager Sarah Alvernaz, who worked for California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley, Calif., before joining the cooperative in 2008, said in California there is less promotional support for sweet potatoes than there is for some other produce.

She thinks it’s because sweet potatoes are still widely viewed as a commodity and there is little branding beyond carton labels in some areas.

“It’s not like grapes or peaches or lettuce (which have) lots of marketing dollars,” Alvernaz said. “It would serve the industry well to collectively build the program.”