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Foodservice industry realizing mushrooms on the menu is the way to go

Foodservice outlets of all types and levels have shared in the success by providing customers with mushroom meatless and blended entrees since the Mushroom Council started its Swapability and Swap It and Top It campaigns last year.

And industry professionals -- growers, marketers and others -- are all helping to promote the idea to their foodservice customers of swapping out less healthy, more expensive forms of protein for mushrooms.

Edelman---FLIP-6-13-6-webChef Richard Blais' new Earth and Turf Burger being served at the Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta. The burger blends Portabella, white button and shiitake mushrooms with ground beef.It's impossible to list all the ways that restaurants are using mushrooms in place of some proteins today, and others are offering them as toppings.

Celebrity chef Richard Blais, whose company TrailBlais, is a partner in a hamburger chain in Atlanta called Flip Burger Boutique. At one of the restaurants he recently introduced what he named the Earth and Turf Burger, a gourmet burger, which blends Portabella, white button and shiitake mushrooms with ground beef. The item was met with such great success at the Flip Burger Boutique in Atlanta that the promotion was positioned to continue and expand to additional outlets throughout the summer.

Epic Burger, a popular burger chain in Chicago, launched a highly successful Mushroom Monday campaign to market to consumers following Meatless Monday diets. The campaign offered 20 percent Portabella burgers on Mondays.

"It is truly a testament to the changing consumer behavior that a burger chain is not only promoting a meatless mushroom dish but finding it a hugely profitable program," said Bart Minor, president of the Mushroom Council.

Fred Recchiuti, general manager of Basciani Mushroom Farms, in Avondale, PA, said there is another very important factor besides the great health and nutritional benefits to foodservice operations replacing a portion of protein with mushrooms-and that's an economic one.

"A couple of months ago McDonald's announced that it is dropping the one-third pound Angus burger from its menu due to the cost of Angus beef," said Recchiuti. "School lunch programs are on very tight budgets. They cannot afford Angus beef, and they are under tremendous pressure to increase the nutritional level and reduce the amount of fat in the foods they serve. Mushroom alternatives, additions and toppings are already being implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for school lunch programs."

Some national foodservice restaurant chains are jumping on the Swap It or Top It campaign in numerous and major ways.

Aware that consumers are more health, nutrition and weight conscious than ever before, mushrooms are already appearing on some progressive national restaurants, such as P.F. Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps made with chicken, mushrooms, green onions and water chestnuts served over crispy rice sticks with cool, crisp lettuce cups. Or, the "SkinnyLicious" grilled turkey burger made with mushrooms at the Cheesecake Factory.

"Also supporting the Swapability trends is that restaurant operators that started offering lower calorie mushroom specials on their menus are reporting increased traffic," Recchiuti recalled from a power point presentation made by the Mushroom Council. "But those that did not had decreased traffic. It looks like we're riding a good train."

Paul Frederic senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Mushrooms Inc., in Avondale, PA, said that the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference & Expo in Monterey, CA, July 26-28 was "the best ever show from our perspective," primarily due to the outstanding response the company received for its new "Bella Blended" meatballs.

"We're right in a 'sweet spot,'" said Frederic. "Mushrooms are good and are good for you. They are low in calories, low in fat, have no cholesterol and are a perfect meat alternative. The product fits perfectly with people's concerns today."

He also noted that quick serve and casual restaurants, including major chains, were most notably drawn to the "Bella Blended" mushrooms, for not only economic reason, but also because today's restaurant patrons want healthier foods.