The nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes have helped them rise in popularity.

“Consumers are much more knowledgeable about the health benefits of sweet potatoes, and people are trying to eat more healthy,” said Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C.

Younger generations seem to be especially interested in these nutritional benefits.

“Young people are very conscious about health and nutrition, and sweet potatoes fit into that,” said George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Inc, Chadbourn, N.C.

This could be good news for expanding the main sweet potato demographic, considering The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2013 lists age and affluence as drivers of sweet potato purchases.

Consumers ages 59 or older were more likely to pick up the healthy vegetable, according to the report.

Benny Graves, executive secretary of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, says he’s seen an increase in interest from the 20-something age group, particularly those who are athletic or interested in nutrition.

“That’s a demographic we’d love to have, and we’re seeing more and more of it,” Graves said.

To help with this new target audience, Graves says new recipes are crucial.

“We have the traditional southern comfort foods that go way back, but new uses, such as grilled sweet potatoes or pairing them with black beans for a Southwest theme, are picking up,” he said.

One way to reach these younger consumers is through digital marketing techniques.

Charles Walker, executive secretary of the U.S. Sweet Potato Council, Columbia, S.C., says the school nutrition guidelines should continue to be helpful in sweet potatoes sales for school districts.

In addition, Walker said he hopes to sell a larger amount of sweet potatoes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its feeding programs.

“Last year, those numbers were really down but we’ve talked with them this summer, and the bids for this year are already considerable larger than they purchased last year,” Walker said.

Kim Matthews, co-owner of Wynne, Ark.-based Matthews Ridgeview Farms said promoting sweet potatoes will help increase sales through awareness.

“It still amazes me the number of people who say they’ve never tried a sweet potato,” Matthews said.

While, website and in-store communication tools can help, she thinks word of mouth is the best tool for helping to change that.

“It’s going to take time to get the message out there, but word-of-mouth is the best because people value those opinions,” she said.