Bright Harvest Sweet Potato Company

Perfecting and packaging what nature made
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

Whether baked with brown sugar, crispy in French fry form, mashed, pureed, diced with pecan pieces, roasted or in a pie, there’s something extra delicious about bright orange sweet potatoes. And for more than four decades, Bright Harvest Sweet Potato Company (Bright Harvest) has been perfecting sweet potatoes.

Located in Clarksville, Arkansas, Bright Harvest is one of the largest sweet potato processors in the U.S. and has been for more than 44 years. The company produces several varieties of high-quality sweet potato products, including French fries, IQF frozen chunks, patties, puree, mashed and casseroles.

A bright idea and early acquisitions

In 1967, the plant began producing sweet potato products under the Kim’s brand label in Clarksville. “The company started under Kim’s by Mr. R.L. Kimbrough, a retired Ford Motor Company engineer,” tells Rex King, now president of Bright Harvest. “His son was growing sweet potatoes and he found that about 50 percent of the crop didn’t meet the cosmetic standards for retail grocery stores so he decided to turn them into something profitable.”

Shortly after, by dicing, pureeing and adding some spices, Kimbrough created the first sweet potato patty. “In the 1980s, Kimbrough sold to John Labatt Foods, a division of a Canadian beer company,” shares King. “In 1991 Heinz, owners of Ore-Ida Foods, purchased the plant and brand labels. And by 1997, McCain Foods purchased a large share of Ore-Ida Foods from Heinz. McCain became responsible for the sales and marketing of Bright Harvest products.”

In 1999, King joined Bright Harvest and Don Kerr, founder of Kerr Industries, purchased the company, which is still privately held. Under Kerr’s ownership Bright Harvest has continued to expand its product line, building on a history of bright ideas and creative ways to use sweet potatoes.

Today, Bright Harvest sources sweet potatoes from local growers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina. “We’re not growers ourselves,” explains King. “We manufacture, pack and distribute across the country. Our Clarksville facility has a lot of line capacity at 120,000 square feet complete with 30,000 square feet of freezer space.”

Sweet success

King says Bright Harvest has built a sweet potato empire by doing one thing and doing it really well. “This is the key to success: do one thing and do it better than anyone else,” he measures. “We do one thing – sweet potatoes – and we are the very best at what we do.”

From the first sweet potato patty to a highly popular sweet potato casserole, Bright Harvest has grown its product line. In the early 2000s the company developed a line of IQF frozen cuts and prime sweet potato thick cuts, ideal for food service companies, such as Sysco and U.S. Foods.

“One of the most well-known is our Bright Harvest sweet potato casserole,” shares King. The famous dish includes a combination of fresh mashed sweet potatoes, brown sugar and spices complete with a praline topping.

“We work with executive chefs to bring products to life and we’re also doing private labels, as well as our own proprietary brand,” says King. “We’re the right size – big enough to deliver a range of products and small enough to cater to specific needs. For example, we developed a non-GMO sweet potato fry for a healthier alternative restaurant chain. It started with one test pallet and now we handle the fries for 16 of their stores.”

Bright Harvest manufactures a special chipotle fry, perfect for the oven or deep frying. The company is also pumping out clear-coat fries, a gluten-free version of the popular sweet potato fry.

Developing and perfecting new recipes and products is all part of the process for Bright Harvest, but King says sometimes its mistakes that result in the best ideas. “During the manufacturing process we stumbled on a proprietary process that combines russet fries with sweet potato fries,” King details. “This product has been trade marked as Potato Fusion. Bright Harvest now makes Potato Fusion cube cuts, as well.”

Fresh-frozen by far

Along its journey, King says promoting healthful lifestyles has always been a top priority for Bright Harvest. As one of the most nutritious vegetables, sweet potatoes are rich in antioxidants, potassium and fiber, while rating much lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes.

But not all sweet potatoes are created equal. For years, Bright Harvest has been vouching for its fresh-frozen version over canned counterparts.

“Frozen sweet potatoes retain more nutrients than canned,” explains King. “During the canning process, sweet potatoes are exposed to intense heat for a long period of time; this removes nearly half of the naturally occurring nutrients. Also, a can of sweet potatoes contains up to 40 percent liquid waste, whereas frozen is 100 percent usable.”

It comes back to the notion of doing one thing and doing it better than anyone else; for Bright Harvest that’s perfecting sweet potatoes. For delicious and nutritious options, consumers have been choosing Bright Harvest Sweet Potato Company for more than 44 years.

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