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International Sweet Potato Week 2016 kicks off next Monday

Last year, imports of American Sweet Potatoes into Europe rose 35% on 2014, and with their increasing popularity In Europe, as in the US, are expected to increase further this year.

International Sweet Potato Week – taking place March 14 to 24 – will put the spotlight on the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Poland.

An initiative of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission and the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute, the week is designed to convince more consumers, chefs and culinary journalist to cook with sweet potatoes.

During the week, a wide range of information, including recipes, cooking methods and facts about sweet potatoes, will be shared via social media.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, the week will kick off with the attendance of the Agricultural Attache of the US Embassy in the Netherlands, Susan Philips.

Over the course of the week, importers, supermarkets, greengrocers and restaurants will give the sweet potato some extra attention in their displays and offer special prices for sweet potatoes as an added incentive for consumers to try them.

Sweet potatoes are rich in fibre, vitamins and beta-carotene, and are a diverse vegetable suited to consumption in different ways throughout the day, “from breakfast till dessert,” the weeks’ organisers say.

Last year, imports of American Sweet Potatoes into Europe rose 35% on 2014, and with their increasing popularity In Europe, as in the US, are expected to increase further this year. Thankfully, the storms which raged over the US did not cause as much damage as supply of this product is actually set to increase. According to recent figures from the USDA, the 2015/2016 sweet potato planted area is up 14%, and the harvest will be 5% above that of the previous season.

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US supplies nearly two-thirds of Europe’s sweet potato imports

The popularity of American sweet potatoes in Europe is proven by new figures showing the US is now the source of 63% of sweet potatoes in the EU, up from 49% in 2011.

The popularity of American sweet potatoes in Europe is underscored by new figures showing the US is now the source of 63% of sweet potatoes in the EU, up from 49% in 2011.

In the Benelux, France and Germany alone, the import volume has doubled since 2009 to reach 46,000 tons of US sweet potatoes last year, reflecting growing demand not only in those countries but also in wider Europe. 

Sources of Europe’s sweet potato imports

Sources of Europe's sweet potato imports.png

 

Source: Eurostat 2014

This year’s harvest is now underway in the US, where an increased acreage is set to yield more sweet potatoes than last year. The sweet potato area planted in the US has risen from 115,700 acres in 2013 to 137,300 last year and 137,700 this year. With 75,000 acres planted this year, a 3% increase on 2014, North Carolina remains the leader, followed by the states of Mississippi (22,000 acres) and California (18,000 acres). Planting usually takes place from mid-May to mid-June with harvesting starting in September and ending in October, depending on the weather.

The first containers are expected in Europe in early October, mostly into Rotterdam and largely of the Covington variety but also some Beauregard and Orleans.

The American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute (ASPMI) has completed its first promotional year and Netherlands-based Phaff Export Marketing will continue its promotional work in Europe for ASPMI over the course of 2015/16 as well, during which the American Sweet Potato will be the focus of various consumer events in Belgium and France.

 

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EFSA advises vitamin A intake of 650 μg for women and 750 μg for men

Sweet red peppers are among the vegetables rich in the vitamin A precursor β-carotene

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published dietary intake guidance for vitamin A following a request from the European Commission.

In a scientific opinion published March 5 by EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies, it set Population Reference Intakes (PRIs) – which should cover the physiological needs of most of the healthy population  – of 750 µg retinol equivalent RE/day for men and 650 µg RE/day for women.

It set average requirements (ARs) for vitamin A ranging from 190 µg RE/day in infants aged 7–11 months to 580 µg RE/day in boys aged 15–17 years.

Vegetables and fruit rich in Vitamin A precursor

EFSA said the term vitamin A comprises retinol and the family of naturally occurring molecules associated with the biological activity of retinol, as well as provitamin A carotenoids that are dietary precursors of retinol.

It said foods rich in retinol include offal and meat, butter, retinol-enriched margarine, dairy products and eggs, while foods rich in β-carotene – which the human body can convert into vitamin A (retinol) – include vegetables and fruit, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet red peppers, mangoes and melons.

Vitamin A intake in the EU

Dietary surveys in nine EU countries found average vitamin A intake ranged between 816–1,498 μg RE/day in adults and 597–1,078 μg RE/day in children aged 10–18 years.

Read the EFSA document here.

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US sweet potato exports poised for further growth

Europe – which imported about 80,000 tons in 2013 – is the main sweet potato export destination for the US, which already has a 50% share of the market, followed distantly by Israel.



Survey finds Europeans yet to discover sweet potato’s nutritional benefits

 

Sweet potato sales have already exploded 300% in Europe in the last decade but consumer research suggests the potential market is much bigger.

And it shows taste is currently by far the biggest reason for purchase, meaning highlighting the sweet potato’s nutritional strengths offers great scope to further grow demand.

Commissioned by the American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute (ASPMI), the online survey of more than a 1,000 Europeans will now guide the institute in its mission to promote American sweet potatoes in northwestern Europe.

Europe – which imported about 80,000 tons in 2013 – is the main sweet potato export destination for the US, which already has a 50% share of the market, followed distantly by Israel.

Campaign to educate consumers

Netherlands–based Phaff Export Marketing is coordinating ASPMI’s export marketing for northwestern Europe and focusing its promotion on teaching consumers how and why to use sweet potatoes.

Its two–prong campaign covers both fresh sweet potatoes and sweet potato products, such as French fries, a segment that has already taken off in the US.

According to Phaff, all major retailers in northwestern Europe now carry sweet potatoes in their assortment. The consumer research, conducted in December, shows it is in such grocery stores where two thirds of sweet potato eaters buy their sweet potatoes.

Questionnaire finds both interest and ignorance

The survey, which covered Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, found familiarity with sweet potatoes is highest in France and lowest in the Netherlands.

It also found that while in Germany men seem to consume sweet potatoes more than women, in France it tends to be the opposite.

Among other findings:

  • two in five respondents already buy sweet potatoes,
  • nearly three-quarters of those already buying sweet potatoes do so because they like the taste,
  • only 13% of buyers do so because of nutrition,
  • half all respondent are very unfamiliar with sweet potatoes and specifically those of US origin,
  • nearly 40% of respondents in France, 33% in Germany, 25% in Luxembourg, 21% in Belgium and 19% in the Netherlands buy or eat sweet potatoes at least once a month.

Benefits likely from promoting nutrition, origin
Overall, it was concluded that gains can be made in introducing sweet potatoes to those who currently never eat them, as well as increasing consumption frequency for those who do.

Other recommendations include:

  • given the survey suggests only about one in 8 of sweet potato consumers in Europe are motivated by health reasons, more effort should be made to promote the product’s unique nutritional values;
  • as familiarity with sweet potatoes increases with age, raising product awareness among younger consumers should provide a beneficial spillover into older age groups;
  • origin is a purchasing consideration for just one in ten respondents so communicating the differentiating traits of US sweet potatoes would be worthwhile.

US sweet potatoes “poised to grow sharply”

Jerry Hingle, president and CEO of Louisiana–based International Trade Associates, serving as ASPMI’s Export Program Manager, said it was interesting that taste more than nutrition was cited as the reason for purchasing sweet potatoes.

“Although sweet potatoes certainly taste fabulous, we also have a compelling story to tell as to their nutritional value – low saturated fat, low glycemic index, high fibre, high in vitamins, etc. – and plan to weave this into our messaging over the coming year.

“As European consumers become more health conscious, we think demand for US sweet potatoes is poised to grow sharply if we help bring the nutritional message to them,” he said.

The majority of America’s sweet potatoes are grown in the south, with North Carolina one of the top growing states.

ASPMI started promoting US sweet potatoes in Europe last July with Canada and possibly Mexico to be part of the marketing campaign.

    

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source: survey of European consumers conducted by World Perspectives, Inc. for American Sweet Potato Marketing Institute (ASPMI).

This report appeared on p146 of edition 135 of Eurofresh Distribution magazine.