Marketers say selling mushrooms has its ups and downs

08/16/2013 12:49:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Courtesy To-Jo MushroomsAs the price of meat goes up, mushroom growers are finding opportunities to increase mushroom sales — including oysters from To-Jo Mushrooms — by promoting them as a product that can be blended with meat.Selling mushrooms can be a rewarding occupation, but it also has its challenges, says those who market the product for a living.

Paul Frederic’s father and grandfather were mushroom growers, so the senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., pretty much was raised in the mushroom industry.

After college, Frederic went to work for a Fortune 500 company, but that life didn’t have the same appeal, so he returned to his roots.

“I got reinvolved in mushrooms that I grew up in,” he said.

He likes the fact that every day is different.

“It’s challenging and rewarding to develop new customer relationships,” he said. “But it’s very demanding of your time.”

There’s little time left for anything else if you’re involved in the mushrooms business, he said.

Mushrooms are a pretty easy sale, “as long as people are aware of them,” said Bill St. John, sales and transportation manager for Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas.

“Most people like mushrooms once they try them,” he said.

The Mushroom Council has done a good job of spreading the word about the product, he said.

And, as the price of meat goes up, St. John, who has been selling mushrooms for 11 years, points at the industry’s blendability program, in which mushrooms are blended with meat to stretch people’s food dollars.

The perishability of the product is a constant concern of mushroom sellers, said Fred Recchiuti, general manager at Basciani Mushroom Farms, Avondale, Pa.

Recchiuti gets a chuckle when he hears counterparts who sell other produce commodities complain that they have only a couple of months to move their product.

“We have three days, so the pressure is a little more intense,” he said.

The secondary market, where mushrooms are frozen or canned, can help alleviate some of the pressure, he said.

When it comes to perishability, Kitchen Pride has an advantage over most other suppliers, St. John said, since the firm focuses on serving Texas, and most of its customers are only four or five hours away.

They sometimes receive their product less than 24 hours after it’s picked, he said.

Mushrooms account for only a small portion of the total produce category, yet they are a high-profit item for retailers, said Meg Hill, director of sales and marketing for Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., Sebastopol, Calif.

Hill has been selling mushrooms for seven years.

One challenge is persuading consumers to try the company’s gourmet mushrooms at a higher price point than regular ones.

The company tries to accomplish that in part through social media, such as Facebook and Pinterest.

“We try to be as interactive as we can be,” she said.



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