5 December 2020. Unlike last year, when the supply was reduced, this season’s harvest in the US could be considered average. In addition to supplies from the southwestern states of the US, the market also has sweet potatoes from Spain and Egypt. Many countries have a modest harvest of their own available. Despite the loss of the demand from the food service sector, retailers are absorbing good volumes. The price has risen almost everywhere due to the coronavirus. A political factor also plays a role in world trade: the EU has imposed import duties on sweet potatoes from the US, among other products. The levies have thus increased from 3% to 28%.
The Netherlands: Good flow of sweet potato sales ahead of Christmas
There is currently a reasonable supply of sweet potatoes on the market, not just from European countries, but also from suppliers such as Egypt and North America. The higher import duties (+25%) for North American sweet potatoes ensure some limitations. “Those costs have to be taken into account,” says a Dutch importer. Nevertheless, the prices stand at a fairly average level of 7 Euro for 6 kg. “Sweet potato sales have reached a good flow ahead of Christmas.”
Germany: Domestic sweet potato is preferred
Sales in Germany are generally dominated by imports from Egypt, the US State of South Carolina, and Spain, with the bulk of the volumes currently coming from the United States. Nevertheless, the domestic acreage is also gradually expanding to relevant proportions. “With sweet potatoes too, people are increasingly paying attention to the origin, with German products being preferred over imported ones,” reports a wholesaler. The Bellevue is generally the most popular variety due to its orange flesh, while white and purple varieties are less popular among consumers.
Switzerland: Professionalisation of domestic growers
The domestic production of sweet potatoes is also increasing noticeably in Switzerland. An increasingly higher number of growers are producing under the name Batati GmbH. This year, the season started about 10 days later than in the previous one. Domestic product sales are gradually increasing. “For that reason, we put a new industrial hall into operation this year with a total storage capacity of 1200 tons. By means of optical sorting and modern weighing technologies we are also able to efficiently process our harvest,” said the management.
United Kingdom: Shortages are expected from January
Storms in Honduras have not affected the import of sweet potatoes from this Central American country and the main imports will arrive January-February 2021. The price is expected to rise due to the tariffs imposed on imports from the US, as the duties have increased from 3% to 28%, which adds 1.50 British pounds per box. What that will entail for the contracts with retailers remains unknown. In the free market, it mainly means competing with products from Spain and Egypt. The prospect is that there will be fewer sweet potatoes from the US on the market as volumes are expected to be down, but this won’t be known until growers take stock after Thanks Giving. It is not yet known how Brexit will affect the tariffs.
France: Many countries on the market
There are many countries supplying the French market. The sweet potatoes available currently come from France, Spain, Egypt, the US and other countries. The supply is quite high because of the many origins on the market and also because these have all been delivering good volumes. The quality is good. Consumption is not that high in France due to the second coronavirus wave. In fact, all restaurants in the country are closed, and 25 to 30% of the sweet potato volumes usually go to restaurants, so there is naturally a lack of demand. But in general, sweet potatoes are increasingly consumed in France. It is a trendy product.
Spain: Acreage reduced by 10-15%
Despite the sweet potato boom of recent years, the acreage in Spain has been reduced by 10-15% this season. The harvest started between 15 and 20 June with fairly acceptable prices, but later there was more pressure on them and fierce competition from Egypt. There is still an abundance of sweet potatoes from different origins on the market, so prices remain relatively low, but stable. Traders are also seeing an increase in the demand for small sizes such as the S and M, although L sizes remain the most popular. There are also sweet potatoes preserved with salt available, but the demand is not high. Thanks to these sweet potatoes, some growers have product in stock all year round.
It should also be noted that there are large volumes of sweet potatoes intended for the processing industry whose sales have stalled. Sweet potatoes tend to generate a lot of waste, with between 30% and 50% of the production being thrown away. In the past, the industry offered a reasonable price, but as the supply has increased, the price for sweet potatoes has fallen, and those growers not specialized in the supply of high-quality products eventually give up, as the business becomes unprofitable for them. For the coming season, growers will plant sweet potatoes again between March and April. Still, a lot could change next year with a new US administration. The tariffs that the EU applies to US products, including sweet potatoes, could make things easier for Spanish exporters, as they compete fiercely with US sweet potatoes.
Italy: Growing popularity of sweet potatoes
Sweet potato consumption is on the rise in Italy. There are several varieties available, with imports arriving from the United States, Honduras, Spain, Egypt, Italy, China or Brazil, as well as from Costa Rica. There is a year round supply in the wholesale market. Partly thanks to immigration, the market for orange peeled sweet potatoes has grown over the last 10 years. In addition to the orange-colored sweet potato, there are also varieties with red skin and white flesh, purple skin and flesh, and white sweet potatoes. The product follows the commercial trend of regular potatoes; it is more of a winter than a summer product. There is also an increasing demand for sweet potatoes from the processed potato industry.
According to a wholesaler in Milan, the main players in Europe when it comes to orange sweet potatoes are Spain and Portugal, while the United States remains on top worldwide, despite pressure from Honduras. There are sweet potatoes of Italian origin of the varieties Veneto and Latina, which have white skin and flesh. For the purple sweet potatoes, the focus is mostly on China, while for the red-skinned ones it is on Brazil. The wholesaler says that sweet potatoes from the US and Honduras are bought for 1.00 Euro / kg and sold for 2.00 Euro / kg. “The Spanish are bought for 0.90 Euro / kg and sold for between 1.30 and 1.50 Euro / kg. The most expensive sweet potato remains the purple one, which is bought for 1.30 Euro / kg and sold for 2.00-2.20 Euro / kg. The red-skinned one is bought for 1.00 Euro / kg and sold for 1.70 Euro / kg. The sweet potato with white skin and flesh is bought for 1.00 Euro / kg and sold for 1.20-1.40 Euro / kg.”
Egypt: Further expansion of sweet potato cultivation
In Egypt, the cultivation and sale of sweet potatoes is increasing every year, with most sales being carried out on the European market. This year, significant strides have been made in the marketing of sweet potatoes thanks to the assistance of German experts. The production increase has been achieved in two ways: on the one hand, by expanding the total acreage, and on the other, by planting varieties that provide better yields. The acreage in Egypt has increased by 20%. Despite the challenges of the coronavirus, sales have also increased this year, with an increase of about 20-30% compared to the 2019 season. Some of the challenges for Egyptian traders are the closed borders, logistical difficulties and stricter measures against the pandemic in Egypt itself. This has also resulted in higher sweet potato prices this season.
South Africa: Price for sweet potatoes has increased
The sweet potato season started in early October. The supply was quite low and, as a result, prices were higher. The average price in December now stands at 7.90 ZAR (0.43 Euro) per kilo. In October, the price of sweet potatoes was also 168% higher than in the same month of 2019.
United States: Strong demand for sweet potatoes in the retail
There is currently a plentiful supply of sweet potatoes on the market. A grower from Louisiana says to be satisfied with his harvest this year, with a greater abundance of large sizes (the jumbos). Despite the hurricanes Laura and Delta in August, the harvest is good. In general, the production volume is average across North America. The demand is still reasonable, as even though the one from the food service sector has disappeared due to the coronavirus, the demand from the retail sector is good and remains stable.
In any case, prices are lower than last year, partly due to the smaller 2019 harvest. A trader in North Carolina says that trade is currently going well. “The supply is very similar to that of last year. Most growers completed their harvest on November 1, despite some unfavorable weather conditions in certain regions during the growing season,” said the trader. The demand from the retail sector is good and the trader expects it to increase further throughout the year. The trader says that the prices in the market are stable, but not higher than last year.
Brazil: Rising demand expected from Europe
Brazil produces sweet potatoes with a red-pink skin and white flesh all year round and exports them to Europe and the US. In the US, this variety is marketed as yams, and not sweet potato. With US sweet potatoes currently subject to tariffs from the EU, the demand from Europe for the Brazilian variety is expected to increase, and the demand from the European market is currently more stable than usual. Due to strong production, the prices for the Brazilian variety are lower than for most other varieties and origins.
China: The demand exceeds the supply
This year, the production season in Yunnan started on November 16; 2-3 weeks later than last year. This delay is the result of sudden temperature drops and excessive rainfall. Growers expect the supply season to last until the Chinese Spring Festival [12 February 2021]. The price is currently at the same level as last year. The market demand exceeds the supply, and in general, sales are going smoothly.
Australia: Value of sweet potatoes is declining
According to the latest Hort Innovation statistics, the Australian sweet potato production has continued to grow every year, with the volume up by 4% in the year ending in June 2019. The industry has passed the 100,000-ton mark for the first time and reached 101,196 tons; however, the value is slowly decreasing. In 2017, the production was worth AUD 87.7 million (53.7 million Euro) before falling by 17% last year, and by a further 2%, to AUD 72.3 million (44.3 million Euro) in 2019. 4% of the total production went to processing, with only 1,479 tons exported (an increase of 61% compared to 2018) for AUD 2.4 million (EUR 1.47 million).
New Zealand: Stable sweet potato sales
In New Zealand, the sweet potato is also called Kumara, and according to the latest edition of Fresh Facts, published annually by Plant & Food Research and Horticulture New Zealand, in 2019, there were 48 growers with a total of 2,541 hectares planted and a harvest of about 24,000 tons. Consumer spending on the Kumara in 2019 was nearly NZD 50 million (€ 29.2 million). It also reports that the domestic value was approximately 55 million NZD (32 million Euro) in 2018.