(March 19) KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. — A grower-shipper-financed $1 million promotional plan will provide some muscle to the Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative’s marketing and promotion programs.

The marketing assessment, approved by the co-op board in January, will be on top of the voluntary assessment the co-op’s 22 members pay, said Charlie Matthews, the co-op’s executive director. Matthews declined to state the assessment rates.

The co-op supplies 75% of the 800 million pounds of yearly U.S. mushroom production, Matthews said.

The cooperative plans to use the money to continue the success achieved by the Mushroom Council, Dublin, Calif., in creating a mix of consumer and trade media and foodservice and retail trade support marketing and promotion programs, Matthews said.

A 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on mandatory assessments halted the council’s promotional plans.

“It is a very ambitious plan, particularly for a young organization, but we feel it is an important time for the organization,” Matthews said.

The co-op, formed in 2000, is using a $150,000 matching grant it recently received from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to focus on consumer communications. The money will help fund consumer promotions through a strategic food communications agency the council had been using.

“We’re obviously going to be doing things that are good for the entire industry,” Matthews said.

The co-op plans to finalize its marketing program at its April 8 board meeting. The co-op’s grower-shippers have decided to fund the consumer promotions and other programs that will help increase mushroom consumption and energize consumers and grower-shipper customers, he said.

“We saw it as our investment into generic promotion for the entire mushroom industry,” Matthews said. “It’s very positive that our members are not just singly focused on their own activities.”

The co-op still hasn’t decided on a permanent headquarters. The organization’s directors at a January strategic planning retreat decided to postpone moving into an office until the organization can better define its needs, Matthews said. An office support organization is handling the co-op’s administrative functions in Wayne, while Matthews, who came aboard as the organization’s first executive director in August, works out of his home office in nearby Kennett Square.

The co-op also plans to work with the 61-member Eastern Mushroom Marketing Cooperative Growers’ Association, formed in September, to financially help with its marketing campaign.