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To-Jo Mushroom introduces ‘Swapability’ to Cornell University

Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Food Products Inc., in Avondale, PA, told The Produce News that on Sept. 19, the company presented the concept of “Swapability” to students, food and catering staff members of the dining division at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, at what the school calls its “Mushroom Mania” event.

“This was a really exciting event, and it presented an excellent opportunity for To-Jo to demonstrate the ‘Swapability’ concept,” said Mr. Frederic. “The concept, conceived and presented by the Mushroom Council, promotes replacing half of the meat protein in a dish with mushrooms. In meatballs, burgers, meatloaves and anything else Bernie-Ciuffetelli-Head-ShoBernie Ciuffetelli, chief operating officer at Avondale, PA-based To-Jo Food Products Inc.involving chopped meat. The result is higher flavor and better moisture, not to mention the outstanding nutritional benefits of an extra serving of mushrooms.”

Mr. Frederic said that the Cornell event was an outstanding success. To-Jo set up seven different dining stations with dishes for sampling. One station served meatballs made with 50 percent beef and 50 percent mushrooms.  

Students and Cornell foodservice staff members who tasted the meatballs responded with terms like “wonderful,” “delicious” and “wow.”

“We also prepared vegetarian meatballs for the vegetarian restaurant on campus,” added Mr. Frederic. “A representative from the Mushroom Council was also present to help respond to questions and to observe the success of the ‘Swapability’ concept, and they will be writing a case study on the event.”

Cornell, he added, plans to offer the 50-50 and vegetarian meatballs in its campus foodservice operations.

To-Jo will be exhibiting at booth number 2079 at the annual Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit on Oct. 26-28 in Anaheim, CA. Besides Mr. Frederic, Tony D’Amico, company president, Michael Wood, vice president of fresh operations, and Todd Kostka, sales and marketing specialist will be representing the company at the expo.

“We will be promoting our full line of fresh packed mushroom items: whites, browns and specialties, as well as some of our value added products,” said Mr. Frederic. “The value added products are designed more for the foodservice sector, but we are extremely flexible on packaging options for retail.”

To-Jo rolled out its pink mushroom containers on Oct. 1 in participation with the Mushroom Council’s in-store City of Hope Pink Campaign which supports breast cancer research and awareness. The Pink Campaign coincides with October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Last year, during the time of the Pink Campaign, national mushroom sales saw a 5.4 percent increase in dollars and a 5.9 percent increase in pounds for browns. Value added also saw an increase in dollars and pounds: 16.9 percent and 29.9 percent, respectively.

“This is the fourth year the campaign has run, and we feel it is very worthwhile,” said Mr. Frederic. “We definitely plan to continue in the future.”

In September, To-Jo announced that Bernie Ciuffetelli had been promoted to the position of chief operating officer for the company.

“Bernie has worked in the mushroom industry his entire life,” said Mr. Frederic. “He has been with To-Jo for the past 15 years, and was previously in charge of our processing operation. He is a true asset to our company, and we are pleased to announce this new appointment.”

Always updating, renovating and expanding, To-Jo plans to break ground on its new plant, located about 25 minutes away from its Avondale location next year.

“We are currently in the process of obtaining the necessary permits and wrapping up details,” said Mr. Frederic. “When completed, the new facility will enable us to double our production.”

“Production costs are our biggest concern currently,” Mr. Frederic continued. “The drought has caused a real spike in the price of raw materials that we use as growing medium, such as soy and corn, and it appears there will be no relief in the coming year. We are concerned that the high cost may force some growers to cut back on production. Labor here is also very tight, which is an ongoing problem.”

But trends that favor mushrooms are good news today. Mr. Frederic said mushrooms segue directly into health and nutrition, and that people are trying to eat healthier foods.

“Locally grown is also an important trend today,” he added. “Some of our local retailers are stressing that, and our products fit right into that demand.”