The value of domestic mushroom production topped $1 billion for the fourth year in a row, according to a recently issued U.S. Department of Agriculture report. The 899 million-pound crop from 2013-14 broke last year's record value by $12 million.
The strong demand for mushrooms increased the value of the Agaricus crop to $1.05 billion from more than 882 million pounds sold. Pennsylvania accounted for 65 percent of the total volume of sales and second-ranked California contributed 12 percent.
Brown mushrooms, including Portabella and Crimini varieties, accounted for 152 million pounds, up slightly from last season. Brown mushrooms accounted for 17 percent of the total Agaricus volume sold and 22 percent of the total Agaricus value.
Production of 65.7 million pounds of specialty mushrooms, including varieties such as Shitake and Oyster, added $65.7 million in value.
During the 12- month reporting period, several large farms closed, decreasing the total number of Agaricus growers in the United States to 103. Another indication of production consolidation is that growers with sales exceeding 10 million pounds accounted for 77 percent of all Agaricus sales.
The data are from the annual National Agricultural Statistics Service production report, which was released Aug. 20. This demand growth is reflected in mushroom retail sales for the same time period.
Over the same 12-month period of the NASS data, the mushroom category grew 3.1 percent, adding nearly $33 million in incremental retail sales. Brown mushrooms had an enormous impact on the category, growing 7.7 percent and contributing an additional $24 million to the category. Organic mushrooms are the fastest-growing segment, up 40 percent in dollars. They comprised nearly 6 percent of the category for this period.
"Increased demand will lead to an increase in the price for mushrooms," American Mushroom Institute President Laura Phelps said in a press release. "Growers and shippers continue to face challenges of higher production costs, including raw materials, wages and energy. There are still gaps left by the closure of large farms. With tight supply, prices should be moving up to meet demand."
Timothy Richards, an agriculture economist for the mushroom industry, noted that "mushroom demand remains strong; our forecast is that demand is predicted to grow at least 2.5 percent, while domestic production is forecasted to grow at around 2 percent. This obviously will put upward pressure on price. Retail sales are expected to grow around 3-4 percent per year, and while the Blend Trend is still just getting started, even a small increase in foodservice/processed mushroom demand can have a significant impact on the bottom-end of mushroom pricing, which then trickles up the product line."
Mushroom Council marketing programs promoting mushroom blendability, the culinary technique of blending fresh mushrooms with ground meat to maintain flavor and texture while reducing calories and fat, has opened up an entirely new market for mushroom sales resulting in increased demand.
"Blendability is creating interest in mushrooms which has increased more home cooks to explore mushrooms," Mushroom Council President Bart Minor added in the press release. "The buzz around blendability is contributing to overall mushroom demand. Blendability is currently being quickly adopted in foodservice outlets both commercially in restaurant chains like Seasons 52 and Macaroni Grill and non-commercially, most notably in the National School Lunch Program. The continued growth of mushroom blendability in foodservice has not only increased foodservice sales but increased overall demand for mushrooms."
The NASS report shows a price increase of 10 percent for mushrooms sold for the processed market -- a clear sign of more widespread foodservice use for items such as burger toppings and meat blends.
Pacific Trellis Fruit, the Fresno, CA-based distributor of grapes and tree fruit, announced it will implement some changes at Dulcinea Farms, which it purchased earlier this year.
Key among those changes is the departure of John McGuigan, manager of Dulcinea, who will leave at the end of August.
"John, a 25-year veteran of the produce industry, has been a great asset to the company since his joining," the company said in a press release. "He was of great assistance to us on this latest acquisition, helping us to transition it from a public company structure to a more market- and grower-focused operation."
"I have had the great fortune to work for outstanding organizations and help get them positioned for success for the future," McGuigan added in the press release. "I know that the team will do great things with Dulcinea Farms going forward, and I wish them all the success in the world."
Other changes planned for the fall include the expansion of Dulcinea's melon program, with new production areas for all varieties. The company said the 2014-15 winter melon program will have increased volume with product coming from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
Additionally, Pacific Trellis has hired former Syngenta employee Paul Collazo to a new research and development position, where he will work on existing and new proprietary melon varieties.
Steve Dabich, an eight-year veteran at Dulcinea Farms, continues the role of director of sales.
Pacific Trellis Fruit farms over 6,000 acres of melons annually and is the owner of the consumer brands "PureHeart," "Tuscan-Style" and "Ruby Bliss," and many others under the Dulcinea label. It is also a sizable grower and importer of grapes, tree fruit and other commodities.
Capitalizing on the growing popularity of the locally grown trend, Baloian Farms, based in Fresno, CA, announced a partnership with Michigan growers to offer retailers their sauté kits with locally grown squash. This value-added product features yellow and green squash with a seasoning packet included.
Understanding the importance of offering locally grown products during peak season was a natural decision for Baloian Farms.
Launched in the fall of 2013, the new squash sauté kits have been well received with continued success at retail and was recently voted as the "People's Choice Best New Product" at the Fresno Food Show in July.
"It made sense to create this seasonal partnership and provide retailers with another strong selling point to further increase their sales," Jeremy Lane, sales manager of Baloian Farms, said in a press release. "The kits will be both grown and packed locally in Michigan."
Utilizing this grower partnership also made sense financially by drastically reducing the amount of food miles involved in delivering the value-added product to retailers.
"Consumers will enjoy the benefit of locally grown fresh squash, along with great flavor options, that are convenient and easy to prepare. We are constantly striving to find innovative opportunities like this partnership to provide premium products to our customers," Lane added in the press release.
Baloian Farms squash sauté kits with seasonings are available in with two flavor options, Parmesan with Herbs and Roasted Red Pepper. The kits contain three pieces of fresh squash and a premeasured season packet. Prep and cook time is about five minutes making this product an easy-to-prepare side dish solution.
Potato sales for U.S. growers pose interesting questions. Eighteen percent of the crop is exported, but statistics on domestic potato consumption create a mystery, according to Mike Carter, co-chair of the domestic marketing committee for the U.S. Potato Board and a member of the board's executive committee.
Carter, who is also the chief executive officer of Bushmans' Inc., located in Rosholt, WI, said that "overall meal occasions" for U.S. consumers to use potatoes have gone up, but domestic consumption "by volume is down [and] that is counter-intuitive."
One explanation of the contradiction is that "as family sizes have shrunk, and with the economic realignment since 2008, consumers are more frugal." Instead of buying a 10-pound bag of potatoes and eventually throwing out four pounds of old potatoes from that bag, they buy less volume but consume all they buy.
"I am not convinced that people are eating less potatoes," Carter said. "Potatoes are America's favorite vegetable. More pounds are sold in produce that anything. They are cheap and they are healthy, so we have all of those things going for us. Are people eating less now than they were? Maybe, but it's not as bad as it sounds."
Still, he added, it's up to the board to "get people excited" about buying spuds.
The board has partnered with the Hungry Girl culinary organization to promote potatoes. This has exceeded Carter's expectations, as the consumer blog now has over 1 million followers. Hungry Girl also operates a Facebook page and reaches consumers through many media outlets. Hungry Girl's audience involves the female demographics that USPB has targeted.
Carter noted that if the board's efforts can promote one more potato eaten each week per consumer, sales are no longer a concern. This can be achieved by showing that potatoes are healthy and nutritious. Fears caused by "perceived negatives" that potatoes are fattening need to be removed. New specialty potato varieties need to be understood and will open new ways of consuming potatoes.
Key to accomplishing these objectives is for the USPB to create a new five-year marketing plan. Carter said this strategic review and adjusted plan is underway.
In recent years, the board had targeted "Linda" as its primary audience. Linda represents women in the age range of 20s to 50s who cook for their family. Carter said the new target audience may be narrowed to the age group of the 20s, as health-conscious young people are learning to cook. "We have to develop a new wave of consumers."
Carter added that digital media provide many opportunities to reach this group.
He noted that the USPB is not just promoting fresh domestic potato consumption but, among other efforts, export markets to ensure ongoing expansion of that critically important segment.
Tozer Seeds announced that it has entered into exclusive marketing agreements with six companies to grow and market Kalettes, the kale and brussels sprouts hybrid.
The companies that have entered into the marketing agreement with Tozer for Kalettes are 4Earth Farms, Classic Salads, Mann Packing, Ocean Mist Farms, Southern Specialties and WP Rawl. As part of the agreement, Kalettes seeds will be sold by Johnny's Select Seeds to small farmers and home growers.
Tozer Seeds made the decision to enter into this agreement with a select group of companies to market under the "Kalettes" brand to create a consistent name and brand identity for the kale and brussels sprouts hybrid, which would allow consumers to easily recognize this new vegetable.
Tozer and these companies have committed to supporting the Kalettes brand though joint public relations efforts, consumer and trade advertising, and by providing recipes, cooking tips and other content to consumers through the website, www.Kalettes.com, and their social media channels.
Additionally, the companies that are growing as part of the Kalettes brand are subject to strict product specifications and quality controls. Product specifications include sizing, color and condition, which will ensure that consumers receive consistent top-quality product.
Tozer Seeds has applied for a PLU code under the generic name "kale sprouts," which will be available to any grower of the kale and brussels sprouts hybrid.
"Our collective goal is to successfully launch Kalettes in the retail and food service channels in the U.S. and Canada and build a strong awareness among consumers," Kraig Kuykendall, sales manager of Tozer Seeds America, said in a press release. "By working together, the joint marketing efforts of Tozer and these companies will be able to reach the consumer more effectively. We have been very pleased with the incredible response to Kalettes and predict it will be very successful."
Kalettes are the product of more than a decade of research by Tozer Seeds, a leading family-owned vegetable breeding company in England. The kale and brussels sprout hybrid offers a fresh fusion of sweet and nutty, combining the best traits of each of its parent vegetables. Kalettes are not genetically modified and were developed by cross-pollinating brussels sprouts with kale through traditional methods.
Kalettes are now available in very limited quantities and distribution will continue to increase throughout the fall and winter as production increases. Kalettes will be available to both retailers and foodservice distributors directly through the companies.