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Caps Off to Innovation

As I try to place myself in the mindset of a company nearing its century mark, I find my mental feet treading a winding road. They lead me to sprawling country fields, their grass a lush and technicolor green. I survey my surroundings, note the crispness of the air and the give of the earth, and think: This is precisely why Giorgio Fresh has settled here.

Just a little over 90 years ago, the Giorgi family planted its roots—and its mushrooms—in the fields of Temple, Pennsylvania. Its first mushroom house was erected by Pietro Giorgi; and once its walls stood, a tradition of excellence and innovation immediately sparked.

(From left to right) Pietro Giorgi, Pietro’s father Giovanni Giorgi, and Pietro’s uncle Nazzereno Giorgi, taken before their immigration to the United StatesIt would be 84 years before Greg Sagan, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, stepped onto the scene. When he arrived at the company in 2012, he immediately felt a kinship with its values.

“Everybody at Giorgio is very passionate about mushrooms,” Greg shares, and it’s evident from his voice that he is counted among these passionate folks. “We know that they have many healthy attributes that consumers are looking for. They’re low in calories and versatile, and people are starting to use them more as the plant-based and meatless movements continue to take off.”

Greg got his start in the food industry at Campbell Soup Company. He started in the 1980s, just as Campbell's was getting into fresh. In a felicitous turn of events, the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) company was looking into mushrooms in particular.

"...We continue to uphold the family tradition of excellence by implementing innovative and continuous improvement."

- Greg Sagan, Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Giorgio Fresh

“That was my first real introduction to produce. After going back into classic grocery roles, I returned to the produce world in 1996. I enjoyed the relationships, the customers, honestly everything about it. It just made sense to me. It was exciting,” Greg explains.

Since 1996, Greg hasn’t left produce. It jives with his pioneering spirit, it would seem, and his inability to sit still and accept that things can’t be improved. For him, Giorgio Fresh was a natural landing pad, and in 2012, he began working for the mushroom provider.

Mushrooms are taking off in the plant-based movement due to their versatility and meaty flavor“I love being associated with a company that continually invests in the future. We invest in our people, our customers, and the consumers,” he says. “Giorgio has a rich and beautiful history. It has changed throughout the years, but at our core, we are still a family-owned business, and the family wants the company to be progressive as it moves into the future. But at the same time, we want to keep the legacy and traditions as part of who we are and what we do."

For nearly 100 years, Giorgio Fresh has melded this passion for innovation and tradition and used it to take the mushroom category to new heights. Founded in 1928, Giorgio Fresh leapt onto the produce scene with a central goal: to bring into being a tradition of high quality that has carried through three generations.

“We’ve gone from a single mushroom house to today, where we’re a multi-faceted company. We are one of the largest mushroom growers in the world,” Greg tells me. “We have been known as America’s favorite mushroom year after year, and we continue to uphold the family tradition of excellence by implementing innovative and continuous improvement.”

Giorgio recently streamlined the consumer shopping experience by color-coding each segment to help the packages stand out on store shelves

Before I delve into the nitty gritty of developing products and a forward-thinking mindset that would set any futurist to shame, Greg remarks on a key tenet of the company’s culture.

“It is our obsession with detail that has led us to set an industry standard for quality and reliability. Today, as we continue to grow, we are investing considerable time and energy into the innovative management philosophy called Kaizen. This program stresses the value of seeking ‘continuous improvement’ in everything we undertake—from growing and processing to service and delivery. The key to that is you get everybody in the organization involved, which means it’s not only leadership telling others what to do. It’s everyone on the team having a chance to provide their input,” Greg explains.

From a single mushroom house, Giorgio Fresh has grown into one of the largest mushroom growers in the worldPerhaps this is why Giorgio continues to develop products that speak to today’s consumers. Rather than shrink from shifting consumer diets, the company has accepted them with open arms.

“We are very active in product development. Our research and development team has been tasked with developing the mushroom products of the future,” Greg says. “We don’t want to lose our core values or ignore where we came from, but we do think outside the box.”

These items have included Blendabella, a portabella tapenade; Savory Wild, a portabella jerky, which speaks to the growing movement of plant-based diets; and its stuffed mushroom line.

“New products like our stuffed mushroom line really take the prep out of the equation,” Greg laughs. “Most people want to be able to enjoy entertaining without all the work and items like our stuffed mushrooms allow them to do that.”

As the company’s successful products continue to flourish, Greg points me in the direction of several trends he’s seen over the years that have driven this momentum.

"It is our obsession with detail that has led us to set an industry standard for quality and reliability."

“We’ve been hyper-focused on consumers’ thirst for recipes. Over the last few months, we’ve introduced new packaging—specifically, labels. What drove that change was evaluating our customers and understanding what they were looking for, which was usage of product. They wanted a simple label, something that had a new, clean, and simple look,” he says.

Once it understood precisely what consumers wanted, Giorgio got to work on making it happen. It color coded each segment, made the product name prominent, and invited shoppers to learn more about the use of mushrooms through a call-to-action to visit the website.

Although it may seem like a no-brainer, this drive to change is bred into the bones of Giorgio Fresh. It’s a simple enough thing, to be sure, but it’s one of the core elements that really make it a company to watch out for.

Each employee at Giorgio Fresh is passionate about mushrooms and brings this passion to work every day

“Something I think about 24/7 is ‘What role do our customers and their consumers play in our business?'" Greg shares. “And more importantly, what is this going to look like tomorrow? How do we prepare ourselves to better serve them? What skill levels do we need from the people who make up our team? As the consumer base changes, we as a company must continue to evolve.”

As Giorgio nears its 100-year anniversary, the company’s future couldn’t be more promising.

“Looking at our company over the last few years, we want to continue the trajectory of being seen as leaders in insight and innovation. We want to keep that focus moving forward,” he concludes. “I want customers, even if we’re not servicing them, to tell others that if they have a mushroom-related question, Giorgio is the one to call.”

It would seem that the innovative spark in 1928 has not dimmed. In fact, it only seems to be growing brighter.