BENSON, N.C. — The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission Inc. is trying to encourage fast-food and fast-casual restaurants to feature sweet potato offerings.

The commission also is using nutritional messages to encourage shoppers to put more sweet potatoes in their shopping carts.

In its foodservice push, the commission plans to sponsor a survey to gauge consumer purchasing habits and consumption.

The organization plans to use that data to convince foodservice operators to incorporate more sweet potato dishes in their menus, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director.

“We are focusing on foodservice,” she said. “Here’s the demand you can meet. It will be data, not what we think. Our goal for this year and for the next few years is to get sweet potatoes permanently on the menus of quick-service restaurants.”

Brenda Oglesby, sales manager for Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, said focusing on quick-service restaurants should help the whole sweet potato industry.

“We’re getting more fresh into more restaurants,” Oglesby said. “We’re trying to get more involved in getting more sweet potatoes into fast-food and fast-casual dining because you definitely get more pull from those.

“This effort will give retailers more pull once consumers eat them in restaurants. That’s where we look to see it.”

The commission plans to conduct the survey during the winter.

Retail materials

In the retail arena, the commission is pushing sweet potato nutritional attributes through point-of-sale material.

Upon request, the commission sends tear-off recipe pads and other point-of-sale material that promotes sweet potato nutrition facts such as sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C and vitamin A and that they provide antioxidants and are rich in potassium.

The messaging also states that “a medium sweet potato baked in its skin is only 103 calories.”

The commission provides point-of-purchase information for retailers.

Spreading its nutritional marketing information in different ways, the commission also is advertising with cable TV chef Paula Deen and showing diabetes educators how sweet potatoes can fit in diabetic diets by participating in the August American Association of Diabetic Educators convention in Indianapolis.

The commission also is marketing sweet potatoes through social media.

Additionally, the commission attempts to work with regional retailers by promoting sweet potatoes through co-sponsoring the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Ag Tour Bus.