Giorgio Fresh Company in Temple, PA, a leading and fully integrated mushroom producer, became a certified-organic grower on March 11, 2004, certified by Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO).
Bill Litvin, regional sales and national account manager for the company, said that its organic line of fresh mushrooms includes whole white, sliced white, Baby Bella, Portabella caps, Portabella sliced and Shiitake mushrooms.
“Giorgio Fresh’s organic line has been fairly stable,” said Mr. Litvin. “We recently added sliced white mushrooms in response to customer demand for the item.”
Giorgio has one of the larger single-site mushroom-growing operations in the United States and is among the largest mushroom growers in the country. Its conventional line of mushrooms is the same as its organic line, with the exception of Oyster mushrooms, which it produces conventionally. Its organic line of mushrooms is produced at the company’s farms in the Reading, PA, area.
The company is on the cutting edge with its food-safety initiatives.
“Our packing operation is SQF [Safe Quality Food] Level-3 certified,” said Mr. Litvin. “Level 3 is the highest level of certification offered. The Safe Quality Food Institute is the leader in providing the world’s most recognized and trusted food-safety and quality-certification program. SQFI is a division of the Food Marketing Institute, an association that conducts programs in public affairs, food safety, research, education and industry relations on behalf of its 1,500 member companies — food retailers and wholesalers — in the United States and around the world.”
Giorgio is also Mushroom Good Agricultural Practices (MGAP) certified for all its growing operations. The U.S. Mushroom industry, working through the American Mushroom Institute and in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has developed a MGAP audit.
“This audit establishes guidelines to reduce the chance of foodborne pathogens and other possible food-safety concerns,” Mr. Litvin added. “All of our mushroom-growing farms have passed the MGAP certification. We believe such audits are a necessary and significant step to improving food-safety standards across the entire agricultural industry.”
Mushrooms grown at Giorgio Fresh that are not certified organic grow according to the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques.
“While not organic, these IPM practices reduce our reliance on pesticides,” Mr. Litvin explained. “IPM techniques are a sustainable method of growing, which uses shorter crop cycles, pest exclusion, biological controls, strict farm sanitation and sound growing practices that produce healthy, disease-resistant crops. Our natural biological controls are derived from nature’s own pest-resistant compounds and are quite friendly to the environment. Giorgio employees participate in ongoing training to ensure proper implementation of our IPM program.”
Giorgio Fresh sells both its conventional and organic mushroom lines to retailers, wholesalers, foodservice operators and industrial customers. Its distribution range is from Maine to Florida, and west to Missouri and Minnesota. The company also distributes in Texas and Arizona.
Mr. Litvin said that the company has seen a slowing of the increase in organic sales with the current downed economy, but it’s still an increase, “which is great,” he said. “We expect there will be an uptick in sales as the economy improves, however we did not see a drop in demand even when the economy was at its lowest,” he added.
In October 2010, Giorgio Fresh completed an expansion of its Fresh Pack facility to handle additional customer demand.
“Since Giorgio pioneered the practice of IPM in the mushroom industry, we were well positioned to grow organic,” said Mr. Litvin. “We initiated the use of biological controls in place of other approved control agents that do not have organic certification of use. We also could not use some control agents that we use on non-organic crops. For example, we cannot add chlorine to the irrigation water for organic crops.”
Mr. Litvin noted that the Organic Trade Association’s 2011 Organic Industry Survey shows that fresh fruits and vegetables continue to lead the growth in the organic category.
“The statistics are reflective of the double-digit increases that Giorgio has seen from last year to this year in sales of our organic mushrooms,” he said. “We attribute this significant growth to not only attracting new customers to our brand but increasing sales with our long-term customers.
“With mass-market retailers accounting for more than half of organic food sales, Giorgio’s organic mushrooms get wide exposure through the strong relationships we have in place with retailers,” he added.