Growers who promote the nutritional value of mushrooms, particularly their vitamin D content, say they’re feeling the love from consumers.
Kennett Square, Pa.-based Oakshire Mushroom Farm Inc. has placed nutrition and health information on its Dole-branded mushroom tills for the past year.
“It’s going well, better than expected,” said Oakshire president Gary Schroeder. “Our package is our billboard, and the program is clearly resonating with consumers.”
Claims on the light-exposed 6-ounce whole and sliced portobello packages include “An excellent source of vitamin D, which promotes healthy bones.”
“It’s classic marketing,” Schroeder said. “You don’t talk about the features of your product, talk about the benefits.”
The Dole name adds credibility to Oakshire’s Naturally Nutritious program, he said.
After exposing mushrooms to ultraviolet light economically and efficiently for about six years, Schroeder received a patent for the technique in October.
For the past two years, Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms has exposed all its sliced mushrooms to light for several seconds. The process naturally bumps up their vitamin D content to 400 international units, or 100% of the recommended dietary allowance.
“We get calls asking for it from places where we don’t have distribution,” Caldwell said. “People are searching for natural foods with vitamin D, especially vegetarians and vegans and those with specific diet restrictions.
“This is one of those nutrition stories that isn’t been driven by some fad diet.”
If the federal government recommends increasing vitamin D levels, the lighting is adjustable, he said.
Olympia, Wash.-based Ostrom’s Mushrooms has placed a starburst on its package and painted trucks to publicize its vitamin D-enhanced sliced white and crimini mushrooms.
The company also has sponsored in-store demos to educate consumers on the concept and created a website video to explain the process, said Fletcher Street, director of marketing and sales.
“We don’t charge a premium,” Street said. “I just think it’s something that’s great to be able to offer, and we’ve had positive feedback on it.”
Other growers say they’re closely watching the research and their competitors before jumping on the vitamin D bandwagon.
“It’s not cheap, it’s an extra step and we’re not sure if the value warrants the investment in the technology so we’re waiting on the sidelines,” said Rick Watters, sales manager for Champ’s Mushrooms in Aldergrove, British Columbia.
Bill St. John, sales and transportation manager for Gonzales, Texas-based Kitchen Pride, said he’s concerned that fortifying mushrooms with increased vitamin D may not be a wise move.
“We can do it but when it comes to vitamins you don’t want too much of anything,” St. John said.
Peter Wilder, marketing director of Avondale, Pa.-based To-Jo Fresh Mushrooms Inc., said his customers aren’t demanding the enriched products at the moment.
“It warrants a major equipment change, and mushrooms are already healthy and give you a nice supply of Vitamin D,” Wilder said. “They’re still the only produce item that has naturally occurring vitamin D.”