(March 21) A little nationwide exposure couldn’t hurt the sweet potato industry.

And recipes handed out to the 50 million members of Weight Watchers International Inc., Woodbury, N.Y., might be a good step. That’s why the U.S. Sweet Potato Council, Columbia, S.C., has tentatively agreed to promote sweet potatoes as a Weight Watchers “Pick of the Season” in late 2007.

Charles Walker, executive secretary, said the council’s board of directors should decide in June whether to participate in the promotion, which costs about $75,000.

However, Walker said $75,000 is more than double the council’s annual budget.

The council is funded by an assessment of 35 cents per acre, which is expected to generate $30,000 to $35,000 for the 92,000 acres assessed, he said.

“The council agreed to join the promotion, but we told Weight Watchers we could not give them a definite answer until we determine if we can get the money,” Walker said.

Walker said growers likely will raise the funds to join the promotion and that waiting until 2007 to participate will give the council time to get organized.

“We want to make sure we get the most out of the promotion,” Walker said.

George Wooten, owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce, Chadbourn, N.C., said he thinks growers would be in favor of joining the promotion but it should be funded at all levels.

“Everybody’s going to get the advantage of the promotion at some level,” he said.

The marketing agent may have a larger financial responsibility, with smaller ones coming from the packer and the grower, he said.

Duane Hutton, packing shed manager at Livingston, Calif.-based Yagi Bros. Produce Inc., said he likely would support the program.

Hutton said he thinks it might be difficult for the council to organize the funds. Most growers are accustomed to supporting promotions through their states, he said.

“I would support it through my state commission,” Hutton said. “I think it will have to be a state-by-state organized and promoted effort.”

The “Pick of the Season” promotions typically include a Weight Watchers logo on retail displays and cartons and editorial food page news releases featuring sweet potatoes. Recipes also are distributed to Weight Watchers participants during the promotion.

Nationwide exposure typically has not been the mission of the U.S. Sweet Potato Council, Walker said. Funds have not been available for the council to pursue promotional efforts, he said.

Most sweet potato promotions are at the state level, but Walker said he hopes working with Weight Watchers will spur growers-shippers to fund more efforts on the national level.