Fred Recchiuti, general manager of Basciani Foods in Avondale, PA, told The Produce News that the company’s new mushroom farm and packinghouse in Independence, LA, is now in full operation.
“The facility opened in August, and it’s going very well,” said Mr. Recchiuti. “With the heat and humidity contributing to perishability in that area of the country, we wanted to be able to service customers there with the freshest and most local product.”
He continued, “Louisiana is very generous with its Buy Local campaign, and given the economic condition there, we feel it’s important to keep jobs in the state.”
Basciani Foods and the Basciani family are also celebrating the 50th birthday of the enterprise’s owner, Michael Basciani, this year. At last count, there were 84 Basciani family members, half of whom are under age 30.
Mr. Recchiuti said that the company is very fortunate to have Mr. Basciani’s sons and nephews working in the business.
“Mushroom growers are scrambling to find young talent who want a career in the mushroom industry,” he explained. “Young people are coming out of Penn State University, which is where most of the mushroom research in the United States is done, but they don’t want to grow mushrooms. It requires long and hard hours, and it takes years of experience to learn how to troubleshoot problems.”
Mr. Basciani’s sons are 27-year-old Michael Basciani Jr. and 25-year-old John Basciani. His nephews are Richie Basciani, age 32, and Vince Basciani, age 35.
“These guys have really stepped up to the plate in the company,” said Mr. Recchiuti. “We are very pleased that Basciani Foods will be able to compete in the industry for the coming decades with this high level of talent.”
One of the biggest challenges the mushroom industry, including Basciani Foods, is currently facing is the shortage of straw and hay used in the growing medium for the commodity.
“The demand for mushrooms keeps growing, but the limited amount of raw materials need for the growing medium we use is making it very difficult to keep up with the demand,” said Mr. Recchiuti. “The price of corn is so high today because it’s used to produce ethanol that growers are opting to grow it instead of straw and hay.”
Although compost producers are trying to establish a new medium with alternative materials that will produce the same yields, developing one is no easy matter. A new growing medium has to be scientifically developed, tested for long periods of time and problems have to be worked out to ensure the needed yields.
Adding to this problem is the wet fall in the Northeast, compounded by the moisture that Hurricane Irene delivered in August, which has made what medium is on hand so wet that it affects the growth of the mushrooms.
“The rainfall slowed production and it also affects the quality of the mushrooms,” Mr. Recchiuti explained. “The mushrooms get little brown specs on them, which are harmless, but it makes them esthetically unappealing.
“We will be short on supply until this problems works itself out, likely not until January or February,” he continued. “We are servicing the customers we have, but taking on new ones at the moment is impossible. And, we’re doing everything that we can to increase efficiencies.”
Mr. Recchiuti said that the processing side of the mushroom business is doing extremely well these days, driven primarily by the use of mushrooms in quick-serve and casual restaurants, like McDonald’s and Hardee’s.
“McDonald’s Angus Mushroom & Swiss burger became so popular that it made its way onto the permanent menu,” Mr. Recchiuti said. “Other restaurant chains are quick to pick up on this kind of success and follow suit with their own menu items.”
He added that consumer use is also way up, noting, “Consumers are starting to recognize the high nutritional factors that mushrooms provide. Health organizations and nutritionists are endorsing the value of mushrooms, which has resulted in them becoming a superfood.”
Besides its operations in Pennsylvania and Louisiana, Basciani Foods has production facilities in Illinois and Minnesota. The company distributes its mushrooms throughout the United States and into Canada.