( Photo courtesy Mushroom Council )

Bart Minor, president and CEO of the Mushroom Council, encountered quite the challenge when he first started with the organization 20 years ago.

He had been brought in to run a promotion program, and the Supreme Court had ruled the council could not collect fees to do promotions. 

“We had to kind of reinvent ourselves,” Minor said.

The industry figured out that it could legally raise funds for nutrition research, and so it did that instead, investing significant dollars in an endeavor that otherwise the council might not have considered.

“More people are doing it now, but it wasn’t something that was necessarily on our radar screen at the time,” Minor said. “You’ve just got to roll with the punches, take advantage of the opportunities — and sometimes it may not be obvious that it’s an opportunity.”

A more recent development in the mushroom realm has been the emergence of The Blend, the mushroom-plus-meat movement that gained prominence in foodservice first and has since inspired suppliers to produce chopped and diced mushroom packs for retail sale. 

The Culinary Institute of American and the James Beard Foundation have been among the organizations driving and supporting the initiative, the positives of which include both nutrition and sustainability.

Greg Drescher, vice president of strategic initiatives and industry leadership at The Culinary Institute of America, described Minor as someone willing to listen to all ideas and always looking for ways to improve.

“He has a very friendly, informal style of leadership that values ideas,” Drescher said. “He loves collaboration ... He’s always brainstorming. He’s always looking for ways to make an initiative better.

“He’s really got an ear to the ground in terms of innovation and long-term trends and strategy, and he’s just a terrific networker,” Drescher said.

Watching The Blend flourish and move from foodservice to retail has been a fascinating and gratifying experience for Minor.

“It’s reassuring as a marketing professional to actually see this happening almost the way the textbook says it will — and yet it’s amazing at the same time,” Minor said.

The Blend will continue to be a focus in coming years. About 5% of people are eating mushrooms with meat in restaurants or at home now, which Minor said might seem small but is significant considering the actual number of people using The Blend.

“A lot of people talk about impressions,” Minor said. “We like to talk in terms of actual consumers engaged and actual new business. We think this has driven that, and we think that’s a good number, it’s a good start, but we’ve still got plenty of room to grow.”

Drescher praised Minor for engaging to the degree he has with foodservice operators and chefs.

“I think there’s a lesson there for the produce industry in general, which is that it’s one thing to aspire to substantially increase produce usage and consumption — many of us have wanted to see produce use doubled in the foodservice industry — but it’s another thing to really roll up your sleeves and work with chefs and work with operators to make that happen.”