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Walmart is teaming with a Seminole Heights chef to promote locally grown mushrooms

A mushroom Tartine dish made by chef Alvarez using produce from the Monterey farm. (Courtesy of Mitchell Communications)
A mushroom Tartine dish made by chef Alvarez using produce from the Monterey farm. (Courtesy of Mitchell Communications)
Published Sep. 23, 2018

TAMPA — It might seem like an unlikely match from the outside: A distinguished chef with a restaurant known for inventive plates using produce shoppers can find at… Walmart?

Walmart, the country's largest grocer, is known for having a core consumer who prizes affordability. But as niche and organic stores are on the rise, the retail giant is taking extra steps to let shoppers know about its local produce.

That's where Florida-grown Monterey Mushrooms and Seminole Height's Rooster and the Till chef Ferrell Alvarez come in.

"The variety of mushrooms they offer spoke to us," Alvarez said.

Walmart has been selling mushrooms from the Zellwood farm, outside Orlando, for at least the last decade, according to sales manager Leslie Block.

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The chain teamed up with the farm and the James Beard Foundation — for which Alvarez was a best chef semifinalist — so Rooster and the Till could showcase the mushrooms grown just outside Orlando.

In June, Alvarez added a mushroom tartine dish to its menu to showcase Monterey's offerings. On Wednesday, farm employees, Walmart executives and local leaders met at Rooster and the Till to taste Alvarez's creation.

"We believe in that local concept," said Block. "Fresher, more sustainable — that way what we produce stays in the state of Florida."

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Walmart is showcasing other local produce alongside distinguished chefs in Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston and Richmond. It's part of a pilot program Walmart calls "Rediscovering America."

"Consumers have a real connection with these chefs and restaurants, who are authentic influencers in their communities," Walmart senior marketing director Ashley Gibbs said in a statement.

Walmart has the largest share of the grocery market, competing with Amazon-owned Whole Foods and others in the delivery space. But for the last few years, all the biggest players have been promoting local produce within their stores. Growing niche grocers such as Lucky's Market and EarthFare heavily market their local and organic offers.

Monterey Mushrooms is based out of California and is family owned. It has 10 farms across North America.

Block said the bulk of the Zellwood-grown mushrooms stay within the Sunshine State.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.