The first containers of sweet potatoes grown in Central America are en route to the UK as part of a new campaign which will see year-round supply of the tuber in Britain. With its healthy attributes like vitamin B6 and a low glycemic index, alongside great taste and kitchen versatility, sweet potatoes are gaining traction in the UK and Europe as a healthier alternative to the regular spud. Ahead of consignments kicking off next week, Jorge Reyes, UK sales manager for German fresh produce company Don Limón, speaks with PBUK about the export campaign, searching for European retailers and showcasing the sweet potato varieties at the London Produce Show next month.
“The initial batch is about seeing how we can make things work well and from then on we are going to start bringing one container over on a weekly basis or as much as the market demands,” Reyes says.
“At the moment, we sell to some wholesalers and also people who re-pack them to go into supermarkets, but we don’t do this by ourselves right now. However, we have the quality to do so and are looking forward to finding the right people to work with.”
At LPS2017 Reyes will be displaying two main varieties grown on farms in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua; orange-flesh Beauregard and white-flesh Bushbok.
Don Limón trialled very small volumes from Central America into Europe in 2013, building up to around 25 containers by 2015 and is now planning to close this year with around 180 containers, amounting to 5,500 metric tonnes (MT).
Reyes believes Don Limón’s advantage is to secure year-round supply and also guarantee sustainable quality because the company works with a network of smallholder farmers and has its own farms in the region.
“We produce them in Central America so in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. After starting off slowly we are now ready for larger shipments into the UK and Europe. We’ve had exponential growth with the sweet potatoes.
“After receiving our first containers next week, coming from Nicaragua and arriving in Kent, we will start delivering all around the UK.
“The fact that we can supply year round is something which is an excellent advantage because of the places where we grow our sweet potatoes. This gives us the possibility to export them fresh. There is no need to store them for long periods of time, something that happens in other countries.
“There are also sweet potatoes in Spain from Egypt that do not really compete because they only come in certain periods of the year, while we are steady and produce all year long which results in a secure supply.”
Hailing from Honduras, Reyes is a sweet potato expert, having worked in the fields and specialising in all aspects of the vegetable’s production and movement throughout the supply chain.
“I go there once a year and a colleague visits every two to three months to see how everything is going and to share market information with the farmers as keeping our lines of communication open is very important.
“It’s a win-win for both; the most difficult thing about producing is having a steady market and that is something we assure to our producers – all of the sweet potatoes they grow are going to have a market at the best possible price.
“We are aiming to get into the larger retailers in the UK and Europe and are very much looking forward to the London Produce Show where we can showcase our varieties and make contact with retailers and others.”