“We will be at booth number 3823 at the PMA Fresh Summit in New Orleans in October, and the excitement is building on behalf of our team to showcase our full line of retail and foodservice items,” Peter Wilder, marketing director for To-Jo Mushrooms Inc. in Avondale, PA, told The Produce News. “On display will be our Portabella Slider Caps and Club Packs in 20-ounce sliced and 24-ounce whole.”
Wilder said that the PMA Fresh Summit presents a great opportunity for To-Jo’s executive team to engage with customers in one place and to meet with other leaders in the produce industry, adding that To-Jo simply “would not miss the event.”
Representing To-Jo at the Fresh Summit will be Tony D’Amico, president; Joe D’Amico, vice president; Paul Frederic: senior vice president of sales and marketing; Todd Kostka, sales and marketing specialist and Michael Lamson, inside sales and service manager.
Wilder noted that summer sales were strong, and that they are truly coinciding with summer grilling trends today.
“Overall, To-Jo’s summer sales were up over 10 percent overall, and up 28 percent on brown mushrooms,” he said. “Our double digit growth coincides with summer data published by the Mushroom Council, which shows strong growth in all categories.”
Strong summer mushroom sales also speak to the success of the Mushroom Council’s ‘Swap It or Top It’ promotional program.
“To-Jo strongly supports the council on the program, and we’re now working with chefs on new prototypes,” said Wilder. “Our ‘Bella Blended’ meatballs, which were introduce and sampled at the PMA Foodservice expo earlier this year received an outstanding response. The meatballs are a blend of protein and mushrooms that ‘taste just like your mama’s.’ The success of this item is a strong indication that other items that combine mushrooms with protein will be highly accepted.”
To-Jo has been a long-time supporter and participant in the Pink campaign, which is organized by the Mushroom Council and supports the City of Hope in its research against breast cancer. Pink ribbons will adorn the company’s mushroom packages throughout the 2013 campaign, which will run from mid-September throughout the month of October.
Since 2002, the Council has provided more than $800,000 to City of Hope for research on mushrooms and cancer. The Council is committed to supporting the fight against this deadly disease and demonstrates the mushroom industry’s ongoing commitment to breast cancer research.
Wilder said that as the economy continues to pull up out of the recession the company is seeing a change predominantly on the foodservice side because people are dining out more. But mushrooms sales at retail remained strong despite the downturn. He also acknowledged that California Mushroom Farms in California is one of two companies that went out of business in the past year.
“To-Jo quickly recognized the potential of the gap that these companies could cause in the future with demand so strong, especially as we head into the holidays when demand increases between 10-20 percent,” he said. “We are increasing our production to help fill in that supply with a full line of our mushrooms.”
He also pointed out how strongly the local topic has grown, and that To-Jo is working closely with retailers in “meet the farmer” events and in other ways that help to educate consumers.
“There is also a strong indication that the “Choose My Plate” program, initiated by First Lady Michele Obama and legislated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is having a major impact on the increase of produce consumption in the country,” said Wilder. “Funding is a potential challenge with it comes to school food programs, but mushrooms are less expensive than meat protein. It’s a matter of educating the school systems on how swapability can help them financially while at the same time provide more nutritious food to kids. As with any new program, it will take a while for this to be fully accepted.”
To-Jo, Wilder announced, recently completed a five-year strategic planning session.
“Out of this will come a comprehensive marketing program beginning next year that will help to better service our customers and consumers,” he said.