“We are very excited that mushrooms are being touted as such an important super-food today,” Fred Recchiuti, general manager of Basciani Foods, also known as Basciani Mushroom Farms, in Avondale, PA, said. “Chef Richard Blais was recently featured on ‘The View’ [ABC]. In his segment he introduced the ‘blendability’ of mushrooms, and he prepared a 50 percent beef and 50 percent mushroom burger, naming it the Earth and Turf Burger.”
Blais, Recchiuti added, also prepared a mushroom mayonnaise and mushroom mustard, ala the Mushroom Council’s wap it or Top It” campaign.
He also mentioned a recent pilot program that involved school-age children. He said that 88 percent of kids in the focus groups preferred the food item where 50 percent of the protein had been replaced with mushrooms.
But prices for mushrooms haven’t changed in at least a decade. Recchiuti said he doesn’t know if the success of the council’s initiatives, and the mushroom industry’s strong step toward offering more mushroom alternatives, will help to firm prices up.
Basciani’s proverbial neck of the woods is having a tough summer weatherwise. Recchiuti said that the heat finally broke a little in late July following a lengthy wave.
“We’ve seen some effects on quality and shelf life,” he said. “Mushrooms don’t like temperature fluctuations. It causes condensation which leads to product breakdown. But we won’t see the real effects in the growing rooms for a while. The compost going in the past few weeks was very hot, and the mushrooms now growing in it are weeks away from harvest.”
Major foodservice increase in the use of mushrooms is good for Basciani because 90 percent of its business is in the sector. Recchiuti noted that mushrooms aren’t just for topping your steak any longer. The company ships about 1.5 million pounds of mushrooms weekly. Keeping costs low also helps companies like Basciani remain in the forefront.
Recchiuti said the high and rising price of fuel inspired the company to introduce a stuffing mushroom for its foodservice customers.
“It is a destemmed mushroom,” he explained. “We are seeing restaurants wanting to reduce labor and prep time in the back of the house. And those who offer a stuffed mushroom on their menus have to pull out the stem. And, the stems of course make the mushrooms heavier, so our removing them also means less shipping weight.”
Basciani is shipping whatever spec size destemmed mushrooms their customers want. The company can get 30 to 40 percent more product into a 10-pound box, which also reduces packaging costs.
The company also started a sustainability initiative this past January. It started when Recchiuti’s 11-year-old daughter came home from school and told her father about the bad effects that white paper have on the environment.
“It takes chlorine to make white paper, and that creates toxins that end up in the rivers and streams,” said Recchiuti. “I brought the information into the office and we began encouraging our customers to change to brown paper packages. We then started looking at other sustainability practices, using an ‘all killer-no filler’ approach. In the past year we switched all of our lights in the packing facility and coolers from metal halides that operate at 2,000 degrees, to LED lights. Every light went from consuming 400 watts to 150 watts, and we have over 100 lights in this facility. We not only cut our power usage-we can’t even quantify the amount of cooling benefits we’ve gained.”
The lighting change also means that no light bulbs are going to landfills because LED lights have an expected life span of 100,000 hours. Recchiuti noted, “I don’t expect to change any more light bulbs in my lifetime.”
Michael Basciani, managing owner of Basciani, and his wife Anna, “are blessed to have five children, 14 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren,” Recchiuti said. “And there is one more on the way.”
He pointed out that a lot of the company’s friendly competitors are scrambling to see where they’ll find the next generation of mushroom growers.
“What kid today wants to take out a student loan, go to college and come out to grow mushrooms seven days a week?” he suggested. “It’s good to have the Basciani family coming into the company. Four of the five children work in the business, and about 10 of the grandchildren are already helping to manage the company.
“We are well poised for a future of multiple generations to carry on the Basciani tradition,” Recchiuti added. “It comes down to Michael and Anna instilling values and high work ethics in their kids and grandkids from an early age.”