( The Packer )

In an industry rightly proud of its multi-generational heritage, sometimes a new face can be helpful too.

Jeff Schrett had never worked with fresh produce exactly when he started at South Mill Champs Mushroom Sales as vice president of sales and marketing in June 2018 in the greater Philadelphia area.

But his experience in snack products at Volpi Foods, ConAgra Foods, Campbell Soup Co. and Oscar Mayer means he knows almost every aisle of the retail store and can use that in the fresh produce department too.

“As I go into a store, I can speak to almost every category,” Schrett said. 

“It gives you good awareness of the trends. Anything you can share from market research and trends can help your customer.”

Schrett’s alternative experience better enables him to launch the company’s new snack innovations at market, especially the value-added Shrooms line of crisps, jerky, splits and bars — all made from the fresh mushrooms grown at the vertically integrated company’s farms in Kennett Square, Pa., and British Columbia.

Since his tenure, distribution has spread to the shelves of Costco divisions, Shop Rite, Shaw’s, Lowes Foods, Raley’s, Gelson’s and 7-Eleven in Los Angeles. 

“And many more large accounts on the horizon,” Schrett said.

Attending major trade shows helped Schrett introduce the product line to a huge amount of customers.

“That’s where we were really able to make our name. We were like rock stars. People were excited by the packaging, the taste, the health factor,” Schrett said.

He’s delved into his company’s scientific nutrition research, said Michael Richmond, head of fresh mushroom sales.

“We are very proud of the exposure and promotion of mushroom health benefits through the new value-added snacking line, Shrooms, led by Jeff in sales,” Richmond said.

Schrett said he values the opinions of his teammates and believes in the importance of listening. He also works hard to respond quickly to customers.

“If a customer reaches out to you, there’s an unwritten 24-hour rule. They’ve got a lot going on their desks, and whatever we can do to make it easier for them, it’s a help to our buyers,” Schrett said.

He likes to think of the Shrooms snack division as a little startup within a long-established mushroom farm, which sells more than 100 million pounds of fresh mushrooms annually across North America. 

Placing plant-based, natural snacks next to fresh produce in the perimeter of the store is more relevant than ever, he said.

“To offer another snacking option that’s never been there before is kind of unique and exciting for us,” Schrett said. 

“We’re able to bring more mushrooms to more people in a convenient way. It’s awesome.”

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