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Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Food Products Inc., in Avondale, PA, announced to The Produce News that Bernie Ciuffetelli has been promoted to the position of chief operating officer for the company.

“Bernie has worked in the mushroom industry his entire life,” said Mr. Frederic. “He has been with To-Jo for the past 15 years, and was previously in charge of our processing operation. He is a true asset to our company, and we are pleased to announce this new appointment.”

Bernie-CiuffetelliBernie Ciuffetelli, newly appointed chief operating officer for To-Jo Food Products.To-Jo Food Products is a leading producer of a wide variety of fresh mushrooms as well as prepared and packaged items. Mr. Frederic said the firm continues to expand its prepared product line in its processing division

“This category represents an engine of growth for our company,” he said. “The ‘Simply Sautee’ item that we recently introduced to the foodservice industry is a fully prepared white mushroom product with a six-month refrigerated shelf life. The restaurant operator merely heats and serves the product. The mushrooms are sliced and sautéed in a proprietary garlic, butter and flavoring system.”

The company also continues to see strong and growing interest in specialty mushroom blends. To-Jo’s four-ounce Exotic Blend package for retail includes a combination of Crimini, Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms. The company also offers the mix in foodservice-size packs.

“The varieties provide different flavors and textures,” said Mr. Frederic. “The blend is perfect for chefs who are looking to spice up their menus.”

To-Jo Food Products takes its food safety and traceability initiatives seriously. The company is at Safe Quality Food level 3 certified, the highest rating possible.

“We are also well ahead of the norm in our produce traceability program,” said Mr. Frederic. “Both food safety and traceability are at the top of the list of important issues in the produce industry today, and we intend to always be ahead of the curve.”

Although the majority of commercially produced mushrooms are grown in only a few places in the United States, Mr. Frederic said that several retail chains are promoting To-Jo mushrooms as locally grown, which the company is very pleased about.

He said that the mushroom industry is the “poster child” for sustainability.

“Mushrooms are grown in compost that contain the bi-products of hay, straw, corn or a combination of these and other crops, but not animal feed type materials,” he explained. “Once a mushroom crop is finished, the spent compost is put back on the earth as fertilizer.”

While that’s the up-side of how growing mushrooms help to benefit the environment, the down-side is in how the ongoing drought in the United States is causing a shortage of the bi-product materials.

“These materials were in short supply last year, and that caused some mushroom producers to not use some of their growing rooms,” said Mr. Frederic. “We expect to see this sort of situation again this year.

“We are also hearing that farmers who are composting the bi-product to sell it to our industry have been forced to use some of the new crop hay sooner than they want, and that creates additional problems. Anyway you look at this situation, we anticipate seeing higher prices for compost and consequently higher prices for mushrooms in the coming year.”

Despite the issues that mushroom growers face, Mr. Frederic said that retail sales have remained steady. On the foodservice side, operators are extremely price sensitive in an effort to keep their costs low.

“The demand for specialty mushroom varieties at the foodservice level is not as strong as it is for whites and browns,” he noted.

“But on the other hand, many operators are finding ways to substitute mushrooms for a portion of the protein, such as beef or pork, on a plate,” he added. “The cost of meat is very high today, so substituting with a portion of mushrooms can be highly advantageous economically.”

Mr. Frederic noted the Mushroom Council’s current “Swabability” campaign that urges foodservice operators and home cooks alike to reduce the meat portion by swapping it out for a mushroom portion.