Mad for Mushrooms


Food purveyors, from restaurants to supermarkets, are selling this superfood like never before.

It sounds too good to be true: a low-calorie, fat-free, umami-rich food with a meaty mouthfeel and health benefits to boot? No wonder mushrooms of all types, and in particular portabellas, are experiencing record dollar sales.

According to the Mushroom Council, in San Jose, Calif., total portabella dollar sales increased 32.1 percent for the 52-week period ending Nov. 3, 2013, and the mushroom variety now accounts for some 30 percent of the total mushroom category. Total brown mushroom dollar sales increased 10.7 percent, and total mushroom dollar sales increased 3.1 percent for the same time period.

“We’ve witnessed extreme growth with the brown category, and we expect to see that continue,” says Kathleen Preis, Mushroom Council marketing coordinator. “What we’re also seeing is that the increase in sales of brown mushrooms has not cannibalized white sales, so people really are buying more.”

Preis attributes the growth in browns to increased awareness, as well as the widespread use of mushrooms by chefs. “Mushrooms in foodservice and the media, along with the attention being paid to the whole blendability concept, continue to spread like wildfire,” she says.

Younger consumers are also experiencing increased exposure to mushrooms in their many satisfyingly savory forms, through school lunch programs and at universities that have begun using mushrooms as meat alternatives. “It used to be that mac-and-cheese was the only vegetarian option,” recalls Preis. “Now, because of greater health awareness, delicious plant-based meals are bringing vegetables to the center of the plate.”

One serving of mushrooms delivers B vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, antioxidants, 3 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber. What’s more, eating mushrooms in place of meat may also aid weight loss.

Last year, the Mushroom Council funded a study at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that tracked 73 adults for a yearlong clinical trial on white button mushrooms and weight loss. The study revealed that participants who ate one cup of mushrooms per day in place of meat lost an average of seven pounds, slimmed their waistlines 2.6 inches and lowered their BMIs.

Super ‘Shrooms

More than a luscious, low-calorie meat substitute, mushrooms have been elevated to superfood status as studies continue to reveal the health benefits associated with numerous mushroom varieties.

Researchers at Duarte, Calif.-based City of Hope were among the first to report that white button mushrooms have been found to block a protein called aromatase, which is linked to most breast cancers. They also found that mushroom extract slowed the growth of breast tumors and lowered the level of a hormone linked to prostate cancer.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) and the U.S. National Library of Medicine, both based in Bethesda, Md., have also published promising news about mushrooms and health. “Recently, it has been discovered that many mushroom species are miniature pharmaceutical factories producing hundreds of novel constituents with miraculous biological properties,” they report.

The NCBI goes on to cite mushrooms as a source of nutraceutical, antioxidant, anti-cancer, prebiotic, immunomodulating, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular, antimicrobial and anti-diabetic powers.

‘Swap It or Top It’ Expands

The Mushroom Council, which debuted its “Swap It or Top” It summer grilling promotion last year, plans to roll out an expanded version that will entice consumers to prepare their favorite summer grilling dishes with mushrooms this June.

This year’s promotion will include a retail display contest component. Independent and smaller chains will be encouraged to build displays that cross-merchandise mushrooms with meat, hamburger buns and other products, and then submit photos of their creations. The council will provide POS materials.

The concept of substituting all or some meat with mushrooms in main courses is gaining traction in a variety of foodservice settings. Flip Burger Boutique, in Atlanta, introduced the Earth & Turf, a combination meat-and-mushroom burger, as a limited-time offer during last summer’s Swap It or Top It promotion. The popular burger is still on the restaurant’s menu.

Foodservice Fans of Fungi

Other restaurants around the country have discovered the allure of mushrooms. The Red Robin spinoff fast-casual chain Red Robin’s Burger Works, with five locations in Colorado and Ohio, has offered a Grilled Portabella Sandwich on the menu from its inception. And at the upscale, locally inspired Root Down restaurant, in Denver, veggie sliders made with mushrooms, red and wild rice, broccoli, and tomatoes have been a favorite for years.

According to Chicago-based Datassential, 81 percent of all restaurants serve mushrooms. Its “Menu-Trends Direct” report on mushroom menuing found that dinner menus featuring mushrooms have grown 24 percent since 2006, while breakfast menus with mushrooms have grown 10 percent in that time.

In terms of mushroom type, oyster mushrooms have experienced phenomenal growth in usage at restaurants, up 150 percent since 2006. Criminis have risen in usage 89 percent in the past six years or so, and 31 percent since 2011. Datassential also found that portabellas featured on menus grew 29.5 percent since 2006.

“We’ve witnessed extreme growth with the brown category, and we expect to see that continue.”
–Kathleen Preis, Mushroom Council

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