Joe Caldwell, vice president of Monterey Mushrooms Inc., headquartered in Watsonville, CA, told The Produce News that the company recently celebrated its 40th birthday.
“About 4,500 Monterey Mushroom employees around the world celebrated our birthday,” said Mr. Caldwell. “And it’s a great time in mushroom history to be celebrating. There is tremendous growth in mushroom consumption, and as the economy improves, we’ll see people eating out more. That will boost the foodservice side of the business, which is often a driver of what consumers want to prepare at home.”
Mr. Caldwell said that in addition, the mushroom industry expects per capita consumption across the country to grow over the next several years, noting the benchmark $1 billion in value the industry reached in 2010.
“Mushrooms fit perfectly into the health trends of today,” he said. “They fit perfectly with weight management, diabetic diets, sodium reduction and overall high nutrition.”
Monterey Mushrooms is especially excited about its new packaging launch at the Prodce Marketing Association Fresh Summit. The new corrugated paper tray is biodegradable and recyclable. It is replacing the styro-style trays the company used in the past. Mr. Caldwell said the company had tried other recyclable packages for several years, but until now it had not found one that would sustain the product throughout its shelf life.
A great deal of research went into the development of the new, totally reengineered brown kraft tray, which included testing the tray with some of its retail partners.
“We’ve been using the tray in blank form with some retailers, and the feedback from most was that it’s great,” said Mr. Caldwell. “They feel it is clean, uncluttered and the color is good.
“It offers us a huge benefit in addition to sustainability in that it enables us to communicate better with consumers’ emotions more than ever before,” Mr. Caldwell continued. “We’ve always tried to convey what is inside of the package, and offered nutritional information, but now we’ve reduced the size of the company logo and the graphics of mushrooms, and are using more emotional messages such as ‘Deliciously Healthy,’ ‘Deliciously Organic’ and ‘High In Vitamin D.’ “
Monterey Mushrooms’ new labels on the trays depict a finished dish on a cutting board. Healthy and nutritious recipes are printed on the trays to further inspire consumers. The tops are open so the product is clearly visible, and the entire tray is overwrapped. Overall it sends a message of freshness and quality.
As an international multi-facility company with numerous mushroom-growing farms strategically located throughout North America, Monterey Mushrooms spends between $15 million and $20 million every year on modernization, expanding and updating at its facilities, not including its investments in new facilities
“We have one recently completed facility and two others in the construction process now,” said Mr. Caldwell. “Despite the economic situation, we continue to see strong growth in mushroom demand, due in part to media attention and in part to medical reports on the benefits and flavor of mushrooms. This growth forces us to expand continually. We’re now looking at future growth beyond this year. We are totally committed to sustainability and will continue to make strides in that area in the future.”
Mr. Caldwell’s enthusiasm about the mushroom industry is far-reaching. He serves as chairman of the Mushroom Council, the mushroom industry’s research and promotion group supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is also proud of the food-safety record that mushrooms hold, and just as proud of how the mushroom industry has united to make food safety its top priority.
“The risk of a food-safety issue with mushrooms is much lower than with other fresh produce because they’re grown in a controlled atmosphere,” he explained. “Despite that, we must do our due diligence to make sure we’re always ahead of the curve. The entire industry is to be commended for how it has pulled together to make safety a unanimous first priority. There are multiple priorities in business today; shelf life, production, consumer draw and many others, but food safety is number one above all.”