Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Fresh Mushrooms Inc., in Avondale, PA, told The Produce News that the company highlighted its recently introduced Traditional Mushroom Saute with Butter, Salt and Pepper at the Produce Marketing Assocition’s Fresh Summit Convention & Trade Show in Atlanta.
“The easy-to-prepare microwaveable mushroom product comes in retail-size packs,” said Mr. Frederic. “It contains seven ounces of sliced mushrooms that are ready to put directly into the microwave oven. All-natural seasonings and herbs are added to the pre-cleaned mushrooms. Users simply microwave for just under four minutes for fully prepared mushrooms in a delicious sauce.”
To-Jo also featured at the Fresh Summit its “Pure Flavor” Quick Blanched Mushrooms that offer foodservice operations the ability to enhance their menu items with fresh flavor but without extra hassle and costs. “Pure Flavor” mushrooms are available in numerous flavor profiles, and To-Jo Fresh Mushrooms will make custom formulations.
“These mushrooms make excellent toppings and side dishes that add a wealth of flavor and value,” Mr. Frederic said.
To-Jo is participating in the Mushroom Council’s Pink Label promotion that is running from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15 to support breast cancer awareness and fundraising efforts. The company is packing four products in pink containers, and sending out placards and other materials that retailers can incorporate into their displays.
To-Jo Mushrooms’ new 8-ounce Whole White Mushroom label now contains a quick-response, or QR, code. Mr. Frederic said that use of QR codes has recently seen a lot of success in the produce industry as other fresh fruit and vegetable producers are incorporating them into their labeling and advertising.
“When scanned with a smartphone, the customer is immediately redirected to the web address embedded in the code,” Mr. Fredric said. “It is the most innovative way for producers and retailers to connect with their customers. With To-Jo’s QR code, customers are taken to the page to-jo.com/meetyourgrowers. Here they learn more about To-Jo and our products by reading our company overview or watching an embedded corporate video on YouTube.”
Mr. Frederic added that the company monitors the use of the codes and knows that increasing numbers of people are using them.
“This ties in with our Meet the Farmer campaign,” he said. “We sent placards to retailers we work with that have a photo of Joe and Tony D’Amico, the owner-brothers of To-Jo. It’s all about local today, and people want to know who is growing their food.”
Mr. Frederic acknowledged the growing retail demand for mushrooms, and the static foodservice demand, which he said is about even with last year. The strongest foodservice segments are the quick-serve and casual dining establishments.
“People are eating at home more because of the economic situation,” he said, “but that’s also helping to educate them about the foods they are preparing.
“Mushrooms have outstanding nutritional value, they are satiating and satisfying, offer tremendous flavor, are low in calories and are often used as a meat substitute. The Mushroom Council’s strong promotional efforts are to be commended as they are certainly bearing fruit.”
Despite the growth in mushroom demand, producers are facing challenges today. Mr. Frederic said that there is a shortage of hay, which is a principle ingredient in the compost that mushrooms grow in. Many hay producers are switching to crops like corn that can be turned into ethanol and consequently pay more money.
“Our industry is also facing a serious labor shortage,” said Mr. Frederic. “The government is all over this immigration issue, but it’s not addressing the labor needed to provide food to the population.”
He said that food safety and traceability will continue to be imperatives in the food industry.
“Mushrooms are one of the safest fresh produce commodities because we grow in a controlled environment,” Mr. Frederic went on to say. “Even the medium that we grow in is pasteurized.”
He continued, “Despite that, we don’t take food safety for granted for a second. The entire mushroom industry is united on this front, and we’ll do whatever we have to in order to ensure that mushrooms continue to have the great safety track record they have had in the past.”