(Jan. 9) KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. — Calling it a move that will change the way mushrooms are marketed, a leading grower-shipper will nationally source, sell and distribute fresh mushrooms under one of the world’s largest produce marketer’s labels.

Oakshire Mushroom Farm Inc., Kennett Square, which grows and ships specialty and portabella mushrooms primarily east of the Rocky Mountains, has set Jan. 13 as the launch date to start shipping Dole branded mushrooms through an exclusive marketing partnership it has formed with Dole Food Co. Inc., Westlake Village, Calif.

“We feel this will change the nature of selling mushrooms,” said Gary Schroeder, Oakshire Mushroom Farm’s president and founder.

To supply retailers and foodservice customers premium grades on a full line of white, portabella and shiitake mushrooms, Oakshire will pull product from several large and small East and West Coast co-packers, said Bill Spivey, Oakshire Mushroom Farm’s vice president of sales. Additional co-packers will be signed as needed, he said.

In the past, while powerful at marketing, Fortune 500 companies such as Campbell’s and Ralston Purina struggled on the production side of mushrooms by marketing mushrooms regionally through their own farms, Spivey said.

“What makes this different is national distribution of a name brand product,” he said.

“We will use the entire U.S. and Canada through co-packers to be able to serve 100% of the nation.”

The marketing deal has Dole re-entering fresh mushrooms, a business its predecessor company, Castle & Cooke Inc., San Francisco, abandoned in 1985, the same year Oakshire Mushroom Farm was founded.

Castle & Cooke sold its mushroom business to pare down debt. The previous spring it withdrew from the Northwest apple deal and California grape and deciduous fruit deals.

Bart Minor, president of the Mushroom Council, Dublin, Calif., said this deal is different than other current marketing arrangements.

“This is probably unique in some respects,” he said. “When Campbell’s was in the mushroom business, it had its own farms. “

Minor said he can’t think of any other major company that has such an arrangement.

A prominent mushroom grower-shipper, who asked to remain unidentified, said he doesn’t see how Dole will market mushrooms any differently than Campbell’s had or Dole had before.

Campbell’s Soup Co., which marketed branded mushrooms from 1979-99, got out of the deal when it spun off seven companies that weren’t a part of its core business, the source said.

“This is a specialized business,” he said.

Marta Maitles, Dole Fresh Fruit Co.’s communications director, said Dole’s customers have been asking the marketer and distributor to expand its product lines.

“They recognize that Oakshire has a premier product,” she said. “I think it will be a popular and quality product. That is what we look for when we look to expand or enhance our existing family of food products.”
Oakshire Mushroom Farm, which sells 8 million to 10 million pounds a year, will supply 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 16-ounce retail packs. Foodservice customers will receive 5- and 10-pound bulk boxes. Wholesale stores will receive larger 24- and 40-ounce packs.

Dole’s Maitles said the time was right for Dole to return to fresh mushrooms.

“Compared to 15 years ago, with the types of mushrooms they have, the popularity of portabellas and exotics such as shiitakes, they’re better accepted in consumer homes, restaurants and are better utilized in recipes,” she said.

The mushrooms will tie in well with Dole’s other products, such as fresh-cut salads, Schroeder said.

“It opens all sorts of cross-merchandising opportunities,” Schroeder said. “It will have a significant impact on growing the category for both salads and mushrooms.”