EU bolsters U.S. sweet potato imports in 2016

Editor's Choice More News Top Stories
EU bolsters U.S. sweet potato imports in 2016

With its healthy attributes like vitamin B6 and a low glycemic index, not to mention taste and versatility in the kitchen, the sweet potato has well and truly found its place in the European market.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics show the U.S. notched a 39% rise in shipments to the old continent in the first nine months of 2016, reaching 124,480 metric tons (MT).

The U.S. is the leading supplier of the tuber to the EU, which represents almost three-quarters of its shipments worldwide.

The U.K. accounts for more than half of the EU's sweet potato imports from the U.S., and registered 26% growth last year, while other important destinations include the Netherlands (37,724MT; +75%), Belgium-Luxembourg (6,584MT; +32%), Ireland (4,409MT; +89%) and Germany (760MT; +27%).

In contrast, Norway and Sweden drastic reductions of 97% and 93% respectively, but Finland registered a 13% uptick and France recorded a 328% increase to 598MT, making it the seventh largest importer. 

Farm Fresh Produce owner Steven Ceccarelli

Farm Fresh Produce owner Steven Ceccarelli

As an indicator of this trend several companies dealing in sweet potatoes were present at the recent Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, including Farm Fresh Produce of North Carolina which exports close to 1,000 containers of the tuber to Europe annually.

Owner Steven Ceccarelli told said sweet potatoes were becoming more common in cooking shows and recipes in the Netherlands, striking a chord with the public for their diabetic-friendly properties for cooking and baking.

"When we went to trade shows 12 years ago people knew what it was but they didn’t know how to incorporate it in their day-to-day," Ceccarelli said.

"The first country where demand for sweet potato from the U.S. side was the U.K., and of course Ireland was similar around the same time, and then it’s been growing since then."

He said other countries have come into the fold to supply the EU as well, but this was not such a concern for companies like Farm Fresh Produce.

"We harvest and store a whole year’s crop – we have sweet potatoes that we offer to our customers in the United States year-round, compared to competing countries where you need a lot of infrastructure and investment to achieve that. 

"They typically come in the summertime here - the end of summer for those countries - which kind of works out well for us because that’s when we’re starting to harvest our crop. 

"We allow them to get their product out of the way and then we sell – we have a lot of customers on the retail side."

He said convenience-oriented packaging and uniformity were also important factors for adapting to the market.

"Retailers of course are going in that direction – via our distribution center we’re able to offer it this way, so we want everybody to know we have the capacity to do it as an additional service with convenient, easy to grab sweet potatoes.

"We wanted to show that to the retailers present here, and even customers of ours who are visiting here who might be selling directly into a retailer of course."

When asked about the show itself, Ceccarelli said he preferred its more intimate approach over the likes of large fairs like Berlin Fruit Logistica.

"To be honest I prefer it because you go to Berlin, we’re talking but you’re not with me physically, mentally - you're you’re worrying about the guy who is calling you who you’ve got to meet two kilometers away.

"So to have that person really engaged or interested, just to have their attention, it’s not fully there."

Subscribe to our newsletter