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Basciani Mushroom Farms meets challenges of Chicago distribution

CHICAGO — A history of supplying good product combined with reliable customer service can serve well even in difficult times. For anyone in the mushroom business, these are difficult times.

Adding to the challenges here, Chicago’s gasoline prices are amoong the highest in the country, Tom Werer said May 10, when The Produce News called. Some Chicago gas station prices were approaching $4.90 per gallon for regular.

Mr. Werer runs the Chicago distribution center for Basciani Mushroom Farms, headquartered in Avondale, PA. He said that tight supplies make the mushroom business very difficult. “It’s been a wild year this year. Mushrooms are short,” he noted. The company, which is deeply involved in mushroom deliveries, is paying 30 percent or 40 percent more for fuel than it did two years ago.

In a May 25 telephone interview Michael Basciani, vice president of the Pennsylvania company, agreed with Mr. Werer. “You are always in a dog fight in Chicago. That’s the temperament of the city. The mushroom business is unbelievable — very, very competitive.”

Still, Mr. Werer said, “We are holding our own. With the competition, it’s give and take.”

Mr. Basciani observed, “We have loyal customers. We think we do a great job for them.”

Basciani serves the Chicago area with shipments of almost 20 Pennsylvania mushroom deliveries a week to Chicago. “That is a lot of product,” Mr. Basciani said.

A plus for Basciani’s operation is that it “has mushrooms all year round,” according to Mr. Werer. “Last year when there was a shortage, all of my people were covered 100 percent. We were there for them and that’s big. We did whatever we needed to do to be sure they were covered. We are where we ought to be.”

Mr. Werer and Mr. Basciani have been in business together since the late 1980s. No matter how big the challenges, “We’ve been here so long that no one can do what we do every day,” Mr. Werer said.

Both men said that adopting a Produce Pro software system has been advantageous to the operation.

Mr. Basciani commented, “We went with Produce Pro and we’re really, really, really happy.” Through the system “we are closely intertwined with a lot of our customers. Our biggest market is Chicago and Produce Pro’s home base is Chicago.”

Mr. Basciani said Produce Pro’s Tom Boyle toured all the Basciani facilities. The Produce Pro staff then spent “months and months” developing the right traceability and accountability information Basciani.

“We can tell you to the pound where it came from and where it went,” Mr. Basciani said.

“Produce Pro is great,” Mr. Werer said when The Produce News visited the Chicago office. “We do all-direct billing from the farm. Our traceability is all in place” and well beyond previous practices.

In addition to Avondale and Chicago, Basciani Farms also has distribution facilities in Orlando, FL, the Twin Cities in Minnesota and, most recently, New Orleans.

The Werer operation works from a rejuvenated brick warehouse built in 1929. This involves not only a mushroom distribution facility, but Mr. Werer’s Eagle Products, which is a vegetable processing facility, and Gem Cartage, a delivery company.

Both men spoke of the close relationship between their families, who work together.

In Chicago, Mr. Werer’s daughter, Tara Werer, runs the HACCP program, Nicole Werer is the chief executive officer, and son Tim Werer is in charge of shipping and receiving.

Mr. Basciani commented, “We have a great time with his family and my family. I have my kids and my nephews, which is a great mix. Now his two daughters and son are working with each other.” The next generation, who are in their mid-20s and early 30s, are increasingly left to run the show. “It’s fun watching these guys make the moves.”