“We have completed our new expansion at our Warwick, Maryland, facility in the past two months,” Kevin Donovan, national sales manager for Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square, PA, told The Produce News June 3. “It now produces half a million pounds of white mushrooms per week.”
Donovan noted that while brown mushrooms, such as Portabellas and Baby Bellas, are definitely growing in popularity and consequent demand, the white category still leads the overall sales in mushrooms.
Phillips Mushroom Farms’ Warwick facility has been up and running for three years. The company has expanded the operation there once before, and the recent expansion has again enlarged the facility to approximately 500,000-square-feet of growing space. Every room in the cutting edge facility is climate controlled by computers, and each room is harvested multiple times a day, 24 hours a day, so mushrooms are always picked at their optimum size. The new facility is Mushroom Good Agricultural Practices and Safe Quality Foods certified and has increased energy efficiency.
Another current initiative at Phillips Mushroom Farms is in its packaging.
“We are currently moving a lot of products into RPET [recycled polyethylene terephthalate] trays,” said Donovan. These plastic trays have already been recycled once, and can be again when the product is used. They are covered and sealed with clear film.
“This is something that we’ve been looking at for a long time,” he continued. “Besides being recyclable again, they are highly applicable to mushrooms.”
Phillips Mushroom Farms, Donovan noted, has seen significant gains in the demand for organic mushrooms in the past few years. Donovan said that the company sees increased interest from its customers in promoting their organic lines of fresh produce.
Considering how locally grown and organics coincide, Donovan said that he feels that consumers who are committed to locally grown would probably also like their products to be organic.
“And those who are dedicated to organics would likely prefer to see the products they buy be locally grown,” he added. “But mushrooms are a unique category. They are grown in certain areas of the country and under specific growing conditions, and so they don’t really fit into the locally grown programs unless those programs are close to production facilities. We are, however, members of the PA Preferred initiative, which falls under the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.”
Phillips Mushroom Farms is also introducing its customers to the Mushroom Council’s Swap It or Top It campaign. The program promotes replacing a portion of meet protein with mushrooms to reduce fat and cholesterol and increase the nutritional benefits of the food item, such as a hamburger or meatball.
Donovan said that the swapability idea is an easy way to incorporate nutritious mushrooms into a diet.
“Retailers are looking at this program and how they can fit it into their stores,” said Donovan. “But one of the problems they have is that they have never gotten into cross-promoting the fresh produce departments with the meat departments. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Of course, we think it’s a great idea, and we hope that it is promoted strongly to consumers through supermarkets across the country.”
Phillips Mushroom Farms’ organic line consists of white mushrooms, browns, such as Portabella and Baby Bella, and specialty mushrooms including Shiitake, Maitake, Beech, Pom Pom and Royal Trumpet varieties.
“And we offer combo packs of organic specialty and brown mushrooms,” said Donovan. “These combo packs provide different textures and flavors, but they go well together and are great in many recipes.”
All of Phillips Mushrooms’ organic mushrooms are produced in the company’s facilities in Pennsylvania and in Maryland.
Donovan noted that new customers for organic mushrooms are emerging, and most of them are in the retail sector. He said that mainstream organic retailers as well as mainstream conventional retail customers have started to push more organic products in their stores.
“We have seen a definite progression with these customers wanting to offer more organic mushrooms in their produce departments,” he said.