At the time, brown mushrooms that matured and opened were considered culls and sent to canneries to salvage some value.
Several developments changed the industry, and as a result Phillips changed its production strategy. The first rumblings of change started in the late 1950s, going into the 1960s, when “Formosa” — as Taiwan was called at the time — began exporting inexpensive canned mushrooms to the United States. At the time, 78% of U.S. mushroom production went to canneries. Angelucci notes that today there may be one mushroom cannery still operating in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, where the AMI is based. At one time there were 15 or 20. Campbell’s Soup in nearby Camden, NJ, was historically a major purchaser of Ken- nett Square mushrooms, fulfilling the key ingredient for mushroom soup. This leads to a second key industry development. About that time, Campbell’s Soup started Campbell’s Fresh and began competing with Kennett Square fresh white mushroom growers. Several decades earlier, Campbell’s also produced mushrooms in the Chicago area. Some of the fungi went to soup and part to the fresh market. Records are vague on the end of that stormy era, which involved highly charged labor strikes in Campbell’s “company town” in Illinois. But in the late 1970s, there came another formidable fresh mushroom producer. Ralston Purina entered the business. This reporter recalls a volatile mushroom meet- ing at the Italian-American Club in Kennett Square, when an angry grower suggested his group compete with Purina by “producing Monkey Chow!” According to a Feb. 8, 1987 New York Times story, Ralston Purina built a fresh white mushroom farm, described as “a sprawling seven-acre factory off Route 32 in the northern tip of the rural town of Franklin, (CT) that was built in 1978 by Purina at a cost of $16 million.” The Times continued: “When Purina shipped most of its production to the Middle West, however, it had to compete with fresher, locally grown mushrooms. Many of the mushrooms at that time also went into processing, but that sector of the business has since been dominated by Taiwan and China. Between 1978, when Purina opened the plant, and 1981, when the company put the farm up for
sale, imports soared from 17,000 pounds to 27.4 million annually, and domestic producers say they cannot com- pete with the cheaper imports.” Angelucci says Don and Marshall Phillips thought they didn’t have the resources to compete with corporate America. So, they began diversifying in 1979. In collab- oration with Jim Roberts, the owner of Lambert Spawn, they offered Shiitake mushroom spawn and together they found a way to grow Shiitakes 12 months a year. Then Phillips moved on to grow other exotic mushroom vari- eties. These were Maitake, Oyster and King Oyster mush - rooms. Later, Angelucci says, they couldn’t trademark the por - tabella name because there was a Portabella men’s store in New York. Today, for Phillips, production is far more than a spe- cialty market. The company just opened a 250,000-square- foot white mushroom production facility in West Grove, PA, a dozen miles from Kennett Square. Angelucci is now 73 years old and semi-retired after 49 years in a close relationship with Phillips Mushroom. December 2022 marks the start of his 50th year of working with his friends Don and Marshall Phillips. Don passed away on Aug. 6, 2022. Marshall remains active in the business. Another key team member was the aforemen - tioned retired Kevin Donovan, long-known for promoting Phillips Mushroom. “It was a good crew at Phillips,” says Angelucci. The third and fourth generations are running Phillips now. The fifth generation is currently three years old. The circular mushroom Forever linked to the food chain by fairy tales, mush - rooms’ story – and certainly that of portabellas – is a meandering history. From white to brown and whites and browns, and from generation to generation, they follow traditions and cultures that began centuries ago in The Netherlands and Italy. But those mysterious, meaty mushrooms will forever emerge from the dark.
Vision Magazine 55
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