Detroit's Sweet Potato Sensations Aiming For Whole Foods Partnership

Sweet Potato Sensations started out with cookies being sold at a block sale. Years later, the family owned and operated business is flourishing in Detroit. It’s all sweet potatoes everything in this family and Cassandra, along with her daughters Jennifer and Charice are hoping they can make their way onto the shelves at Whole Foods.

From The Detroit News:

Today, Sweet Potato Sensations operates out of a 4,000-square-foot building on Lahser Road that employs two generations of the Thomas family, plus staff. The store offers an almost-complete sweet potato spectrum, from pies to fries. The multi-layer cake with sour cream frosting won national renown after a crew from the Food Network filmed in the store.

Now, the Thomas family — including Charice, 32; Jennifer, 31; and father, Jeffrey — is redesigning labels and reformulating recipes in an effort to get on the shelves of the Detroit Whole Foods market that opens this summer in Midtown. The company is also a target of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.’s new D2D program linking companies such as Compuware and Henry Ford Health Systems with local Detroit suppliers such as Sweet Potato Sensations.

“We’re hoping that Whole Foods can catapult us to the next level,” says Charice Thomas, who — like her sister Jennifer — graduated from college and moved out of state but wound up back in the family business.

The family’s struggle to take its franchise of sweet potato sweets to the next level is a uniquely Detroit story of entrepreneurship, corporate outreach — and no easy answers.

Marketing to Whole Foods should provide a needed boost — but it’s also costly. The natural foods chain, which met with 76 Detroit food companies last month, has high expectations of its suppliers. For the sweet potato pie makers, that means changing ingredients, reformulating recipes and lab testing the nutritional value of their baked goods.

About 3 years ago I had the opportunity to experience Sweet Potato Sensations, and before I left their shop, I think I had one of each item they sold.  But according to Cassandra, the family business hasn’t always been a sweet success. After 25 years, they have had challenges, especially when they’re in the center of an area of Detroit that isn’t exactly the suburbs.

Hopefully the work the family is putting into making product labels and adhering to Whole Foods’ nutritional and cage free requirements will pay off.  To learn more about Sweet Potato Sensations, visit their website: http://www.sweetpotatosensations.com/sps.html.

FYI: they ship also (I recommend the sweet potato coconut tart).

 Detroit’s Sweet Potato Sensations Aiming For Whole Foods Partnership

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  • ChaCha1

    I used to stop there after church for pie when I was a kid. Mmm…going to have to pay them a visit. I hope it works out with Whole Foods.

  • MamaB.

    Fantastic for them! I wish them success!!!

  • E.M.S.

    I fully support this happening for them but NOBODY can beat my grandmother’s recipe for sweet potato pie. I had considered starting a business for it some time ago lol. They better look out if I do, they might have some competition later :P

  • omfg

    why would they need to change their ingredients?

    if they do, then i question the integrity of their product.

    the only things a sweet potato pie has are sweet potatoes, eggs, butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and maybe cream. the crust is also simple – butter, flour, water.

    what’s to reformulate?

    unless they put propylene glycol or preservatives in their products that are not allowed in wf products. there was a pie company (black owned) that started putting said ingredients in their pies and i stopped buying them and learned how to make my own.

    i checked their website but they do not list their pies’ ingredients which is, imo, a big no no.

    i’m just trying to figure out why they have to change ingredients.

    • Apple Pie

      I would like to figure out why they need Whole Foods. Why not just stay a flourishing black business?

    • Pink Lipstick

      You can license your product to other sellers and still remain a flourishing black business. You might even see your profits increase. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    • Moni

      If you read the linked article, they’re changing their ingredients to meet Whole Foods’ “crunchy” standards (cage-free eggs and untreated nutmeg). These are ingredients that most grandmas don’t use, but that are required to sell to WF. Why not investigate (the link is right here) instead of immediately assuming/implying that they are using inferior preservatives or that they’re changing the integrity of their products?

  • Moni

    I’ve been to Sweet Potato Sensations and their baked goods (especially the SP cake and SP chocolate chip cookie) are excellent! Their challenge is that people tend to view sweet potatoes as a seasonal food. They do excellent business around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but are a lot slower for the rest of the year. I hope that they get this Whole Foods deal so that they can reach a wider audience.

    To Apple Pie, they would still remain an independent black business. In addition to having their own shop, they would become a wholesale supplier to Whole Foods, selling them Sweet Potato Sensations branded products which Whole Foods would sell in their store(s). This would increase their sales and also be free marketing, because the products would state that they are made by Sweet Potato Sensations. I wish them the best!