The number of global food and beverage product launches using sweet potato as an ingredient has increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21% from 2015 to 2018, according to Innova Market Insights. In the US, the amount of land devoted to growing sweet potatoes has grown by 37.6% for the period from 2012 to 2017, making it the largest increase of a vegetable crop measured by the USDA.
The sweet potato holds some nutritional advantages over white potatoes including a lower glycemic index along with higher levels of fiber, and vitamins A and C. Sweet potatoes are also rich in beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid inversely associated with metabolic syndrome (MetS), a condition characterized by central obesity, hypertension, and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism. The syndrome has been linked to increased risks of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
The versatility of sweet potatoes
While baby food accounted for the largest percentage of sweet potato product launches worldwide (14%), the use of sweet potatoes has grown in five other categories including cakes, pastries, vegetables, ready meals, and confectionery. Each of these categories have grown by a CAGR of 25% or more over the 2015 to 2018 period.
"A confectionery category like gummies or jellies seems like an odd place for sweet potato, but that is an indication of how sweet potato is catching on as a natural, clean label food coloring,” said Tom Vierhile, VP of strategic insights North America for Innova Market Insights.
Food and beverage formulators are using sweet potato for its reddish color for use as a natural food coloring in new product launches.
“Sweet potato is increasingly used as a base ingredient for natural red color alternatives to carmine, a food coloring derived from [crushed cochineal] insects,” noted Vierhile. “Food makers that use carmine cannot label their products as ‘vegan’, an increasingly attractive designation for consumers seeking to reduce or eliminate animal-based products in the diet. This is helping sweet potato gain traction in food ingredients like food colors.”
Tapping into this need, Chr. Hansen commercialized its Hansen sweet potato Ipomoea batatas, which it is marketing as a vegan alternative to carmine and synthetic food colors for formulators looking for vibrant natural red shades.
In the US, several companies have highlighted sweet potatoes in recent launches:
- Last year, the Campbell Soup Company under its V8 vegetable and fruit juice brand, launched V8+Hydrate, made with sweet potato juice, which the company claims has superior hydration benefits.
- At Expo West 2019, gluten-free frozen pizza brand Caulipower introduced its Sweet Potatoasts - frozen slices of roasted sweet potatoes that can be heated and topped with different ingredients.
- Hummus brand Lavana released a limited edition sweet potato hummus for the fall season.
Plant breeding innovation to lead to wider penetration of sweet potatoes
The cultivation of sweet potatoes has traditionally been limited to humid subtropical to tropical climates. In the US, the bulk of sweet potatoes have been grown and harvested in North Carolina and Louisiana, which provide the 120 to 150 days to maturity that sweet potatoes require.
However, that could change with recent plant breeding innovations. Canadian researchers recently announced the availability of a new variety of sweet potato called Radiance that matures in as little as 100 days – fast enough to harvest in the Niagara Region (along the New York/Canada border) of the country. The commercial release of the fast-growing sweet potatoes is expected later this year, according to Vineland Research & Innovation Center.
"Assuming Radiance and other faster-maturing sweet potato varieties like it catch on, the sweet potato story seems destined to add additional chapters in more temperate regions around the globe," said Innova Market Insights.