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Mushroom Council taking its promotions to new levels

The Mushroom Council, headquartered in San Jose, CA, is essential in its promotion of fresh mushrooms through consumer public relations, foodservice and retail communications. This year’s list of promotional initiatives is abundant, and all are geared at helping to increase consumption and educate people about the great flavor and the health benefits of mushrooms.

Promoting to the foodservice sector is vital, not only because of the huge amount of mushrooms major chains can account for, but also because retail sales result when people try a dish made with mushrooms at restaurants and want to duplicate it at home.

With support from the Mushroom Council, Burger King has added a new Mushroom & Swiss Burger to its menu from mid-October through December. Mushrooms will be featured from the farm to the plate in a new TV spot and the burger will be displayed on the menu board. The council will help to drive awareness of the new Burger King item through a public relations campaign.

From Nov. 1 through Dec. 23, Boston Restaurant & Sports Bar, a 50-unit nationwide chain, is running a holiday promotion with the featured item being Lobster-Stuffed Mushrooms. Also supported by the Mushroom Council, an insert that wraps around the front and back of the menu will feature the council’s logo next to the product photograph.

The council secured limited-time-only menu promotions with both Uno Chicago Grill and Johnny Rocket’s in summer 2011.

Uno Chicago Grill, a large multi-regional chain with concentration in the East, reaches approximately 300,000-350,000 people each month. The chain added two new mushroom items to its permanent menu: Artisan Wild Mushroom Pizza and Stuffed Portabella Appetizer.

Johnny Rocket’s created a new Route 66 Chicken Sandwich for its 25th Anniversary All-American Favorites summer promotion to coordinate with its Route 66 Burger. The Mushroom Council worked with the chain to promote the limited-time offer via the use of the council’s logo on promotional materials.

Black Angus, a regional West Coast chain that uses fresh mushrooms with steaks, burgers, pizzas and salads, developed a Latin-themed Chipotle Crispy Baby Portabella Mushrooms, a bar-food-type product that ran from late 2010 and through February 2011. Black Angus representatives said that during the promotions, the company increased its fresh mushroom usage by 60 percent over the same period the previous year.

The council also targets college students.

“The College Outreach program focuses on the college and university segment, directly reaching both campus chefs and the students,” said Bart Minor, council president and chief executive officer. “Beginning with a yearlong advertising campaign in trade magazines, the council is highlighting the versatility of mushrooms in both ethnic and vegetarian dishes, two increasingly popular campus cuisines. In addition, the council has developed numerous tools for industry members to use with their campus customers, and is working on an on-campus event competition among the Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and PAC-12.”

In late 2010 and into 2011, the Mushroom Council and Sodexo, a major foodservices and facilities management company, partnered to conduct a limited-time offer featuring mushrooms. The program ran in participating Sodexo campus dining, employee feeding and managed healthcare facilities. Menu items featuring mushrooms included pizzas, salads and sandwiches. Sodexo tracked 5.4 million servings of the featured items during the promotion.

The Mushroom Council also teamed up with Mr. Food to promote fresh mushrooms with summer grilling in 2011.

“We teamed up with Mr. Food to create a grill-ready recipe for meatless mushroom sliders that aired on the ‘Mr. Food’ TV show,” said Mr. Minor. “These mushroom slider burgers offer a lower-calorie option for summer grilling menus and serve as a welcome change of pace from traditional burgers on the grill.”

He added that retailers should develop promotions in the summer that highlight the range of new menu options, such as fresh mushrooms, to prepare on the grill.

The council noted that when taking advantage of fresh mushroom promotions during grilling season, retailers should follow a few mushroom marketing tactics, such as discounting mushrooms by more than 25 percent during promotions, promoting packaged and bulk mushrooms together and featuring multiple mushroom varieties in the same advertisement.

The council continues its aggressive promotion of the high nutritional benefits of mushrooms, and it participates with health organizations. Council representatives attended the 2011 American Dietetic Association’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo Sept. 25-27. The event attracts more than 8,500 registered dietitians, nutrition science researchers, policymakers, culinary professionals, health care providers and industry leaders.

“At this year’s conference, council representatives highlighted the nutritional benefits of mushrooms,” said Mr. Minor. “They emphasized the versatility of this superfood and how it can be used to boost both flavor and nutritional value of everyday meals while reducing calories, sodium, fat and cholesterol. To bring this nutritional message to life for conference attendants, the council sampled a Mushroom Taco with Salsa Verde in which the filling was a mushroom and beef blend.”

Since 2002, breast cancer research has been a cause for the Mushroom Council. It has invested more than $750,000 in grants to City of Hope, a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, for research on mushrooms and cancer. This fall the council will provide an additional $500,000 to continue studies.

“To help raise awareness of National Breast Cancer month, and in recognition of breast cancer research, mushrooms will be sold in pink containers from September 15 to November 15,” Mr. Minor noted.

The council is also embracing social media. In May it launched a search engine marketing campaign on Google, resulting in an increase of 32 percent traffic to mushroominfo.com. The campaign’s consumer statistics showed that the top-performing key words among consumers included “mushroom recipes” and “vitamin D.”

“This is an example of the key consumer insights that retailers can transfer from the digital space to their grocery aisles,” Mr. Minor added. “With a growing number of consumers seeking out recipes that incorporate mushrooms, retailers can build promotions and displays that highlight the in-demand produce staple.”