May 26, 2010

The sad truth behind the future sweet potato craze

Mark my words sweet potato fries will be soon be taking over as the next big thing.  Unfortunately, it is not because people enjoy them.  Rather giant food processor ConAgra is spending billions to make it happen.  As this Wall Street Journal article points out, ConAgra is "reengineering" the sweet potato so it can be mass produced and consumed.  This is example of the mess our food chain is in  and how companies create and market the food we eat. 

The gist of the article is since the sweet potato does not grow uniformly and the taste varies, it is hard to mass market the sweet potato.  Food manufactures want uniformity across every thing they serve.  No matter where you go it must taste the same and is engineered to please the taste of the majority.  Further, the funny shape is inefficient since some of the potato is unused and food manufactures can't have that.

Here is what happens.  ConAgra food scientists engineer the sweet potato to grow like a brick at the exact sweetness and taste that consumers favor.  They play around with the genes of the potato and even patent this new potato.  ConAgra will then launch a mega millions marketing campaign about the nutritiousness of sweet potatoes, the taste, etc.   Bam.  A new billion dollar market is created. 

I do not have a problem with some company trying to create and grow a market. It is up to us know what we eat.   I wrote about this topic last year in a post about Cargill. These companies create food and you should know about it.  They spend millions on research and science.  It gets to a point where you are no longer eating food, but some concoction a scientist created in a lab.  The WSJ called them breeders.  I want my food from a farmer not a breeder.  This is food after all.

I make sweet potato fries all the time.  It takes 15 minutes and the funny shape doesn't matter to me when I  make or eat them. When the sweet potato craze arrives, ignore the mass produced fries. Instead, go to the farmer's market, buy a sweet potato and make them yourself.


Livia said...

I thought it was the next big thing about 8 years ago. They don't get a second chance at that, do they?

Bradd said...

It is growing, but now food manufacturers are going to take it mainstream. See below for data.

Per-capita production of sweet potatoes, a close approximation of consumption, has gradually risen 30% over the last decade, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The percentage of U.S. restaurants offering at least one sweet-potato dish more than doubled by 2009 from 2005—to about 13%—according to survey research from restaurant tracker Datassential.