Blendability and Topability continue to drive mushroom demand

Mushroom demand has skyrocketed since the Mushroom Council launched the Blendability campaign a couple of years ago.

By variety, consumed at home or eaten at foodservice operations, white mushrooms continue to be the leader. But browns and Shiitakes have made strong headway and perhaps in the future will share a leadership position. Mushroom producers joined the Blendability campaign without hesitation, and even expanded on it by promoting both Blendability — replacing half of meat protein with mushrooms — and Topability, or ­ the use of mushrooms to top starches and proteins like pastas, potatoes and meats.Custom-Blend-001The Mushroom Council’s Blendability and Topability initiatives have been effective in increasing consumption.

Organic mushroom sales have also grown in demand over the past couple of years.

Pete Wilder, marketing director for To-Jo Mushrooms, said the company is seeing an increase in inquiries regarding a recently launched Mushroom Council promotion called the Better Burger Project, where it is promoting the concept to consumers through a partnership with the chefs in the James Beard Foundation.

“We are providing support to our retail partners by supplying them with blended recipes and in-store demo ideas to promote the concept in their prepared foods cases,” said Wilder. “In foodservice, we are working with a range of industrial manufacturers who are bringing a variety of concepts to market for their customers, including the Blended Savory Burger being sold through U.S. Foods.”

To-Jo currently offers organic products to its customers, and Wilder said it is an emerging category.

“Organic sales steadily increased through the first quarter of this year,” noted Wilder.

Mike O’Brien, vice president of sales and marketing for Monterey Mushrooms, said the Blendability initiative is keeping mushrooms top of mind.

“This effort communicates to consumers about how blending fresh mushrooms with ground meat can enhance flavor, and substantially reduce fat, sodium and calories,” said O’Brien. “It has a fast-growing following across the country in school lunch programs and in colleges. Blendability is one of the trends that are being offered at restaurants where chefs are blending finely chopped mushrooms into recipes that call for ground meat to reduce calories, sodium and fat content, and they’re also adding extra servings of vegetables to the plate.”

To-Jo Mushrooms also offers organically grown products to its customers. O’Brien said the company also saw sales steadily increasing through the first quarter of this year.

“The organic mushroom category has grown by 15 percent, driven by the millennials,” said O’Brien. “We have increased our organic production to service our customers at all farms. Our expert category management capabilities have helped our customers grow category sales by adding organics to their mix.”

Bill Litvin, senior vice president of sales and national account manager for Giorgio Fresh, said that today, people of all ages, from millennials to baby boomers, are more concerned about eating healthier.

“This is reflected in the growing rate of vegetarians and flexitarians,” he said. “Commodity prices are also affecting menu decisions at home and in restaurants.”

Finely chopped mushrooms, he added, look, act, taste and perform like ground meat. Blended together with meat, this combination adds taste and health benefits to popular foods.

“Sensory research conducted by the Culinary Institute of America compared 100 percent all-meat tacos to 50-50 mushroom-beef blend,” said Litvin. “Overall groups preferred the 50-50 blend.”

Basciani Mushroom Farms, which services primarily foodservice operations, concurs that the Blendability and Topability initiatives are strong drivers. Chefs are acutely aware of price-per-plates costs, and replacing a portion of protein with mushroom helps keep their costs in line.

Fred Recchiuti, general manager of Basciani, noted, “We are seeing increased interest in the nutritional aspects of mushrooms at the consumer level. Restaurants and other foodservice operators are slow to promote this aspect, but they do see the financial value of Blendability.”

Kevin Donovan, national sales manager at Phillips Mushrooms, said organics are following the same trends as conventional mushrooms.

“While organics are strongest at retail, we are starting to see more interest from the foodservice end,” he explained. “Operators tend to change their menus seasonally, and they know that offering an organic option grabs the attention of customers who are following the trend, and it’s important to them to have a consistent year-round supply.”

Phillips Mushrooms is getting the word out about Blendability and Topability to retailers to inspire them to do in-store promotions.

“We encourage retailers to do samplings and to use other tools to get consumers on board,” said Donovan. “We are also working with our foodservice customers and food processors to educate them on using mushrooms in this way.”

Sbrocco sponsors Sussman 3-on-3 basketball tournament

CHERRY HILL, NJ — Sbrocco International Inc. was the event sponsor of the 10th annual Sussman 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, held here May 30-31.

The south Jersey community joined together to participate in a weekend of hoops and fun for all. Funds from the event were dedicated to the memory of late JCC members, brothers and basketball lovers Eric and Andy Sussman. Proceeds from the weekend benefit the Katz JCC's youth basketball program and the Coaches vs. Cancer organization for cancer research.Sbrocco7745Jaydon David, Jason Guerra and Noah Rose competed in the 5th and 6th grade division of the Sussman 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, sponsored by Sbrocco International Inc. (Photo courtesy of Sbrocco International)

"It's always been important to Sbrocco to give back to our local community, and the Sussman tournament is especially rewarding for two reasons — first, because it involved physical activity to encourage healthy lifestyles, which directly aligns with Sbrocco's mission and values, and second, because of the great cause that is especially important to the Sbrocco family," Christina Regan, marketing manager of Sbrocco International, said in a news release.

This year, Sbrocco donated apples and grapes, which were provided to participants, volunteers and spectators as a healthy snack throughout the weekend. Sbrocco also provided water bottles and tote bags for the winning teams from each age division.

Star chefs highlight PMA Foodservice Conference

More than 1,800 attendees are expected to convene in Monterey, CA, July 24-26 to network and discuss emerging trends facing the fresh produce and foodservice industries. The PMA Foodservice Conference, now in its 34rd year, is completely focused on fresh produce in foodservice.

This year’s education will feature insights from star chefs Hugh Acheson and Jet Tila to help deliver education and discuss menu and flavor trends. Chef Acheson, a Bravo! "Top Chef" judge and James Beard winner, will discuss how food television, cooking magazines and recipe websites influence what consumers purchase. Chef Tila and Chef Gerry Ludwig will detail menu trend forecasting that puts produce in the center of the plate — highlighting vegetable-centric and root-to-stem dishes.

A committee of fresh produce and foodservice professionals steered the development of this year’s conference, refreshing both the education and networking experience. Fritz Stelter, president of Field Fresh Foods, and Jeff DeBoer, senior director of produce sourcing for Sysco, led the committee as co-chairs.

“It was an honor to watch such a diverse group of industry volunteers work together tirelessly on recharging this event, and ensuring it provides a great opportunity for the entire supply chain to connect, learn, talk shop, and enjoy Monterey to its fullest,”  Stelter said in a press release.

“I’m confident that attendees and exhibitors will walk away with actionable learnings and an enriched network. It’s a great way to connect the foodservice industry with the produce industry and focus solely on getting more produce onto menus and plates,” DeBoer said in the release.

This year’s conference will also be home of the Hands on Fruit & Veggie Training. Under the instruction of Jill Overdorf, corporate executive chef and director of business development at Coosemans LA Shipping, participants will learn about growing regions and seasons for produce, understand best storage and handling practices, and develop proper prep techniques for four to five fruits and vegetables.

Meijer-Produce for Kids partnership

The Produce for Kids campaign with Meijer launched May 31 and will raise funds to bring the nutrition education program, Jump with Jill, to local schools in the Meijer area. The Produce for Kids campaign offers Meijer shoppers in-store and online meal solutions, recipes and tips for families looking to embrace healthier eating habits.prk

The Meijer and Produce for Kids campaign, which will run through June 27, is supported by 11 participating fresh fruit and vegetable companies. Meijer grocery shoppers are encouraged to support these brands by eating more nutritious fruits and vegetables. Shoppers can also sample simple, healthy Produce for Kids recipes at select stores on June 13.

“At Meijer, our mission is not only to provide our customers with a fresh and healthy experience every time they enter our stores, but to also create strong local communities through school programs like Jump with Jill,” Shari Steinbach, registered dietitian and Meijer healthy living manager, said in a press release. “We are proud to partner with Produce for Kids on an effort that encourages our shoppers to introduce fresh fruits and vegetables to their families.”

In-store displays and signage, featuring characters from the popular family movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, will be displayed in Meijer produce departments and will list all participating companies. The signage will direct shoppers to, which features more than 200 registered dietitian-approved and family-tested recipes, meal planning tools, grocery store specific campaign details, and healthy tips from real parents. Additionally, shoppers will be encouraged to share their own healthy recipes and ideas during the campaign using the hashtag #produceforkids.

“We are proud of our partnership with Meijer to educate families about the benefits of eating nutritious produce as part of a healthy lifestyle,” John Shuman, president of Produce for Kids, said in the release. “We are extremely proud of the $5 million we have raised thus far to support local children’s charities, and we are excited to partner with Jump with Jill this year to further teach nutrition to kids in a fun and engaging way.”

Through partnerships with Produce for Kids, Meijer and select fruit and vegetable companies have raised more than $1 million to benefit children's charities.  Produce for Kids and Meijer raised more than $60,000 during its fall campaign, which allowed the Jump with Jill program to take place in 27 schools in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.

A familiar initiative to families in the Midwest, Jump with Jill is armed with catchy songs, upbeat dance moves, and a hip wardrobe to engage kids on the subject of health and leave them empowered to eat better.

Meijer offers a diverse selection of fruits and vegetables to make it easier for families to live out what they learned from Jump with Jill in the produce department of their local grocery store.

Suppliers participating in the Meijer and Produce for Kids campaign include Bolthouse Farms, Dole Food Co., Earthbound Farm, Grower Direct, HMC Farms & SunWest Fruit Co., Marzetti Co., Mastronardi Produce, NatureSweet, Potandon Produce,  Shuman Produce and Well-Pict Berries.

CAC focused on domestic avocados for Fourth of July

With 117.6 million pounds of avocados to be consumed for Fourth of July activities, the celebration of Independence Day is expected to be the second-largest avocado-consumption event of 2015. To encourage demand leading up to and during the holiday the California Avocado Commission plans to build on the connection between the holiday and domestically grown avocados.ALB-V-S-CAC--LawlerConnie Stukenberg of CAC with Chuck Bandy, a California avocado grower, and Steve Lawler of Albertsons/Vons/Safeway Southern California.

“In 2012 CAC set out to build a mid-summer avocado-consumption event around the Fourth of July and we’re proud that it has become one of the top-two consumption events of the year for avocados,” Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for CAC, said in a press release.

California avocado advertising, promotion and public relations creates usage awareness in connection with the American Summer Holidays in advance of the Fourth of July. General market radio, print ads, billboards and a new video showcasing California avocado grower Tom Pecht and his family anchor CAC’s advertising campaign during this period. also will feature California avocado summer entertaining and Fourth of July recipes.

Chef Charlie Kleinman of Wexler’s BBQ in San Francisco serves as CAC’s media spokesperson for the holiday. The chef developed two new recipes for CAC: pulled pork wandwich with California avocado slaw and cornmeal-crusted fried California avocado and bacon salad with molasses vinaigrette. CAC will promote Kleinman’s recipes via a press release and media outreach. will include a Fourth of July landing page and offer consumers a chance to win prizes by participating in CAC’s All American recipe contest. Social media activity and advertising will promote California avocado recipe ideas and tips for the holiday. The commission’s blogger ambassadors are creating American Summer Holidays-themed posts and will pin to CAC’s American Summer Holidays Pinterest board.

The Commission’s retail Fourth of July program includes customer-specific marketing support, in-store radio, point-of-sale material and an American Summer Holidays recipe booklet.

An example of CAC’s customer-specific marketing is its support of Albertsons/ Vons/ Pavilions Southern California in-store signage program. Their California-grown POS program is a natural fit with California avocado communication and shopper interest in locally grown produce. At a recent kickoff event, California avocado grower Chuck Bandy, who will be one of many local growers featured in the in-store signage as well as the weekly mailer, shared his story at a local Albertsons store.