Making storable orange-fleshed sweetpotato purée a commercial reality

Making storable orange-fleshed sweetpotato purée a commercial reality

Orange-fleshed sweetpotato purée is a profitable and nutritious commercial product to meet urban consumers’ needs in Kenya.

Vitamin A deficiency is a serious problem in East Africa. Through the efforts of the International Potato Center (CIP) and its partners, many vitamin A-rich, orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP) varieties have been made available to rural households. As Africa is rapidly urbanizing, more people want to buy food that is ready to eat or easy to prepare.

Earlier research in Rwanda demonstrated that OFSP purée (steamed, mashed roots) was an economically viable ingredient in baked products when the purée was produced and used in the same bakery. Between 2010 and 2014, CIP and the Rwanda Agricultural Board worked with a bakery, Urwibutso Enterprises, to make biscuits and donuts from sweetpotato purée. The bakery made its own purée and used the waste for animal feed at their piggery. However, most bakeries do not want to make purée or deal with the waste.

“The challenge for us as researchers was to develop a more complex market chain that could take orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes all the way from the field, through processing and baking, to reach consumers with bread that was rich in vitamin A,” noted Dr. Tawanda Muzhingi a food scientist at CIP. In 2014, the Center began to work with a wider range of value chain actors in Kenya to develop baked goods made with OFSP. During product development, the food technology specialist at Euro Ingredients Ltd. created improved OFSP bread, buns and cake recipes.

Intensifying and improving purée processing allowed Tuskys to sell 3,000 loaves of OFSP bread per day with a profit margin of 18%. Credit: CIP

Based on a CIP consumer assessment, Tuskys supermarket in Kenya agreed to sell products in some of its 56 stores, and Organi Ltd., a Kenyan bakery, agreed to produce the purée. Adding this actor made the value chain longer but was necessary to encourage the supermarket to bake with sweetpotato purée. In 2015, equipment was installed at the Organi factory and CIP recruited 334 sweetpotato growers, of whom two-thirds were women, to produce the roots. These were peeled by hand and shipped as frozen purée to Tuskys’ bakery in Nairobi.

The first OFSP bread was marketed in six branches of Tuskys in 2015 at a premium price (USD 10 cents above its regular bread), reaching 20 stores in 2016. The bread was well-received by consumers as a healthier alternative, good source of antioxidants and vitamin A – with two slices providing about 10% of the vitamin A requirements for adults.

Commercial development in 2016 focused on intensifying and improving the purée processing, by increasing output and reducing costs. The processing was improved with better washing and by introducing high fiber purée from unpeeled sweetpotato. This allowed Tuskys to sell 3,000 loaves of sweetpotato bread per day with a profit margin of 18%.

In 2017, CIP started working on a shelf-stable purée and researchers tested different doses of safe, locally available food preservatives, such as citric acid, to develop a vacuum-packed purée with a three-to-six-month shelf life that does not need refrigeration. This is important because keeping a cold chain is expensive in sub-Saharan Africa, and sweetpotato is often a seasonal crop, so the purée must be storable.

Dr. Jan Low, leader of the Sweetpotato for Profit and Health Initiative at CIP, explained that the greatest challenge is “getting all parts of the chain consistently flowing. If the purée processor does not have capital to risk up front, if the supermarket purchasing the purée delays significantly in paying for the product, the payments to farmers for their roots are delayed, which clearly is demotivating. Yet the owner is hesitant to take out loans to pay farmers up front until all is working. It is a classic chicken and egg problem.”

A key lesson from this is the importance of having a partnership with a private sector company, such as Organi, which is willing to adopt recommendations. Periodic feedback at all levels with the farmers and processors was crucial. Commercial OFSP purée production has been improved and is poised for profitable, larger-scale output. Baked goods rich in vitamin A will provide farmers with a guaranteed market for their produce while making healthy food available to consumers.

Photo: OFSP bakery goods are both profitable for producers and healther alternatives for consumers. Credit: CIP