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Yams = Sweet Potatoes

California sweet potato farmers are on a mission to end consumer confusion, entice younger buyers and increase retail sales of this superfood, according to a news release.

"It's very likely that many shoppers who come into the store looking for sweet potatoes are walking away confused and empty-handed when what they see on the shelf is labeled a yam," Sarah Alvernaz, a California sweet potato grower and member of the California Sweet potato Council, said in the release. "Or perhaps it's the reverse — they're looking for yams, but the sign says sweet potato."

"Sweet potatoes come in all kinds of colors — red, orange, white and even purple. You may see them labeled as yams in the grocery store, but they're actually sweet potatoes," Alvernaz said. "True yams are very different from sweet potatoes and are a starchy, tuberous vegetable mostly grown in Africa. These are not grown and are largely not available in the U.S., despite what you might see on display signs."

Alvernaz and the California Sweet potato Council hope to end this confusion, particularly for younger consumers who may not be interested in eating yams but have heard that sweet potatoes are a superfood.

"We want people to know that sweet potato is simply a modern, more accurate term than yam," Alvernaz said.

To support the message, the California Sweet potato Council plans to work with retailers on new signage labeling sweet potatoes in their stores that will enhance sales, the release said. The council is offering incentives from October through January to select California retailers who conduct promotions designed to educate shoppers about sweet potatoes, the release said. Eligible promotions include in-store signage, demos, sales contests, ad features, social media or other shopper marketing tools that educate consumers.

"Working with the California Sweet potato Council, we've prepared a host of marketing materials to educate consumers and convince retailers to help end sweet potato-yam confusion," Marilyn Freeman, of Farmers Communications Exchange, said in the release. "Our firm is partnering with merchandising specialist Carolyn Becker who will be meeting with California retailers in the coming months to set up in-store tests and coordinate promotions with the California sweet potato industry."

The campaign will be supported with social media and web-based information for consumers along with tools to educate produce department personnel, according to the release.

Freeman explains that signage for sweet potatoes commonly found in grocery stores does not reflect today's sweet potato crop. As with most commodities, sweet potato growers produce many different varieties. Older sweet potato variety names like jewell or garnet are still commonly used on store signage, but these varieties are no longer produced in California, the release said.

"We are encouraging retailers to label sweet potatoes according to color," Alvernaz said. "Most varieties grown in California can be accurately labeled as either red, orange, white or purple sweet potatoes, rather than using specific variety names. And most definitely none of these varieties are yams."

"We want people to understand the Thanksgiving yam dish that's been in their family for generations has always been made with sweet potatoes and that sweet potatoes can be used in a variety of recipes not just for the holidays," Freeman said. "Ultimately, we hope to demonstrate that with proper signage and knowledge, consumers will buy more sweet potatoes!"

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