Sweet potato sales are up 8.5% from last year, according to The Packer’s 2014 Produce Market Guide.

“Sweet Potato sales are seeing growth across the country. Year-to-date retail sales are up 14% in dollars and pounds are up 6%,” said Jeff Scramlin, director of business development of the Raleigh, N.C. office of Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC.

“For the 52-week period ending June 15th, dollars are up 12% and pounds up almost 5%, and the performance is outpacing many, if not most, other items in produce,” he said, citing numbers from IRI FreshLook.

Benny Graves, executive director of the Vardaman-based Mississippi Sweet Potato Council said he believes the growth reflects a variety of trends.

“I think there are a lot of reasons. One driving force is that people are eating healthier and there are more vegetables on the plate. There are also aging populations in some areas and ethnic populations in others areas that are eating more sweet potatoes,” Graves said.

Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the Benson-based North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, said the quality of the product and the increase in supplies have been helpful in supporting marketing efforts.

“Usage of sweet potatoes has expanded exponentially beyond the traditional holiday meals. Consistent supplies, a uniform quality product and ongoing promotions have made the difference,” she said.

Stewart Precythe, president and chief executive officer of Southern Produce Distributors Inc., Faison, N.C., said a lot of progress on the storage side of the business has led to increased sales.

“The quality of the storage facilities has really improved over the last 10 years. It’s expensive to keep sweet potatoes year-round, but you can do it now without a lot of shrinkage. The university has done a great job of working to extend shelf life,” Precythe said.

The market is especially strong after a shortage to end the previous season’s supplies.

George Wooten Jr., owner of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., says that means it’s a good time for sweet potato promotions.

“There should be adequate supplies for the 2014-15 crop and lots of good opportunities for promotions to increase sales. Last year, there was probably a reduction in per capita consumption because of supply issues, but not I think people are looking for good supply to meet consumer demand,” Wooten said.