A slice of convenience

07/27/2012 02:42:00 PM
Tom Burfield

In a day and age when consumers crave convenience, the mushroom industry has come through with flying colors.

“We slice a ton of mushrooms,” said Fred Recchiuti, general manager for Basciani Mushroom Farms, Avondale, Pa.

“It’s a convenience factor,” he said, but it’s also a food safety issue for the foodservice sector.

“You don’t want restaurant workers to take a knife they just cut chicken with and cut mushrooms,” he said.

“We do it here for you under sanitary conditions.”

Sliced mushrooms are becoming more popular at retail, as well, he said.

The company offers 8- and 16-ounce sizes for conventional retail stores and a 40-ounce size for big-box locations.

Criminis make the best slicers, Recchiuti said.

“It’s a meatier-tasting mushroom,” he said. “We sell a lot of sliced criminis to Papa John’s Pizza.”

Sliced portabellas are popular for grilling during the summer, he said.

“You can marinate them in anything you want and throw them on the grill,” he said.

Dole Mushrooms, Kennett Square, Pa., also produces a lot of sliced mushrooms, said Gary Schroeder, director.

“Consumers like convenience,” he said.

Sliced mushrooms have been a trend for awhile, he said. Sales continue to increase at a greater rate than for whole mushrooms.

Slicing the mushrooms adds to the price of the product, but not much, because the industry has developed machinery that performs the operation efficiently, he said.

How much more consumers pay depends on the price the final seller sets, he said.

Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., Sebastopol, Calif., is considering a value-added program for its specialty mushrooms, said Bob Engel, chef liaison.

“I think there’s definitely a place for that,” he said.

“As (specialty) mushrooms become better known, we know there will be a market for value-added.”

If the target audience for specialty mushrooms is consumers who are familiar with top-quality food, but who don’t have as much time as they need in the kitchen, “giving them something that’s pan ready is going to be a plus,” Engel said.

At least 50% of the mushrooms Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas, sells to retail accounts are sliced, said James Sweatt, director of sales.

Whether consumers pick up sliced mushrooms rather than whole mushrooms depends on the price gap, he said.

When the volume of whole mushroom sales goes up, it may be due to a large retail price differential between whole and sliced, he said.

Some people may prefer to slice the product themselves to save money or just to ensure they get the precise cut they want, he said.

Sweatt said he is not seeing as much growth in the category today as he has in the past.

Besides offering consumers a convenient product, a sliced program can provide a grower with an outlet for secondary product, Recchiuti said.

“No one can grow 100% diamonds,” he said.

The processed market enables Basciani to provide sliced mushrooms for angus swiss burgers, sauces and mushroom burgers that nearly all quick-serve restaurants have on their menus today, he said.

“It allows us to give the fresh market the best product,” he said.

The firm has its own cannery, but still, the company doesn’t want to send too much product there.

“You can go broke quick if you send too much to processing,” he said.



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