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.
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