By Maggie Edwards
Alabama’s official state vegetable took center stage as Auburn University (AU) and Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) researchers recently scaled the impact of the state’s agricultural branding program.
The survey showed consumers are willing to pay a $1.01 premium for locally grown sweet potatoes labeled Sweet Grown Alabama. That indicates the membership organization’s influence, said Sweet Grown Alabama Director Ellie Watson.
“This is a huge win for Sweet Grown Alabama and all of our sponsors,” Watson said. “This shows the dollars we spend on marketing are bearing fruit. The goal of Sweet Grown Alabama is to put money back into our farmers’ pockets.”
AU’s Joshua Duke, Jose Garcia Gamez, Julia Holley, Samir Huseynov, Adam Rabinowitz and Wendiam Sawadgo led the research.
“We wanted to see how consumers view Sweet Grown Alabama and the produce that is sold,” Sawadgo said. “We used a methodology that focused on real-world experiments.”
Sawadgo and his team visited several farmers markets across the state. While there, they set up vendor booths with sweet potatoes from Kress Farms in Cullman and Sirmon Farms in Daphne. Both farms are certified Sweet Grown Alabama. They’re also members of the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (AFVGA) and Alabama Farmers Federation.
“We asked consumers to be honest and truthful about how much they would pay for sweet potatoes,” said Sawadgo, an agricultural economics professor. “We labeled baskets depending on where they were from — the U.S., Mississippi and Alabama. We also had sweet potatoes labeled Sweet Grown Alabama.”
And consumers dug those Sweet Grown Alabama potatoes.
“We have been telling farmers Sweet Grown Alabama is a valuable marketing tool since we began in 2019, but this is the first scientific data we have to prove our brand allows farmers to get more for a product,” Watson said. “This shows farmers that membership in Sweet Grown Alabama is beneficial.”
Cullman County farmer Clark Haynes said the research is helping grow demand for his sweet potatoes.
“We are in competition with the Mississippi and North Carolina sweet potato markets,” said Haynes, who grows 200 acres of sweet potatoes at Haynes Farming Co. “This study proves local people want to buy local.”
Haynes said he’s grateful for Sweet Grown Alabama and advocacy organizations like AFVGA, the Federation and the Alabama Sweet Potato Association.
“Everyone loves Sweet Grown Alabama,” Haynes said. “The restaurants and grocery stores I sell to want locally grown products now more than ever.”
AU’s research helps the public, too.
“This guarantees consumers know they are getting a higher-quality product when they spend that extra dollar,” Watson said. “The Sweet Grown Alabama products they purchase are the freshest, best products that support the environment, farmers and the state’s economy.”
To purchase sweet potatoes and other local products, visit SweetGrownAlabama.org.