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Mushroom’s moment: Is the trendy item set to become a grocery cart staple?

In the first half of 2023, the humble mushroom has been enjoying the limelight. The once esoteric fungi is popping up everywhere — in wellness teas, vitamins, smoothies, body care products and seemingly every aisle of the grocery store. Once considered hyperniche, exotic mushroom varieties like oyster and lion’s mane have been popping up on ingredient food labels across departments.

What’s more, the mycological movement is taking social media by storm, even sparking a ‘shroom décor trend in 2023 that includes fungi shapes and mycological-inspired designs in everything from candles to furniture to wall art.

Beyond recent fanfare, does the mushroom’s newfound buzzy status translate into sales in the produce department? While food-tech entrepreneurs seek out rare mushroom varieties and mycelium proteins to develop the next hyperprocessed food product, are shoppers warming up to the whole ingredient on produce aisle shelves?

“Mushrooms are a super fresh product with high nutrients that is on your plate within days of being harvested. There aren’t too many products that can claim that,” Highline Mushrooms CEO Jose Cambon told The Packer.

The challenge for the mushroom industry right now, according to the Leamington, Ontario-based organic mushroom grower, is nailing the pitch. Cambon believes that the mushroom sector can learn a thing or two from recent blueberry marketing wins.

LEARNING FROM BLUEBERRY’S ‘AHA!’ MOMENT
“Effectively, blueberries were a sector that was going along pretty well, but not flying,” Cambon told The Packer. “And then everyone started buying blueberries.”

What changed, according the Cambon, was that blueberries marketing shifted to tout the little fruit’s health benefits — and one in particular.

“What changed the blueberry sector is the connection to antioxidants,” Cambon said. “People found a reason to eat more blueberries because they give you antioxidants. None of us know what an antioxidant is, but we desperately need them, right?”

Mushrooms are poised for their breakthrough marketing moment, Cambon says, and a shift from a nice-to-have grocery cart addition to a fresh produce staple.

“This is the challenge for mushrooms right now,” Cambon said. “We know that [they’re] good for you, we know they’re super healthy … but we haven’t got the health message executed. We need to find a very clear simple message that resonates with consumers, particularly Americans.”

Mushroom consumption in the U.S. is much lower than most parts of the world, he said.

Underlining this, The Packer’s Fresh Trends 2023 survey showed that only 33% of consumers said they purchased mushrooms in the past year, down from 38% in the previous survey and down from 40% in Fresh Trends 2021.

To Cambon, this translates to a huge opportunity for the mushroom industry help Americans improve their health.

TOUTING MUSHROOMS AS A NATURAL MEAT ALTERNATIVE
The body of evidence promoting both the health and environmental benefits of plant-based eating continues to grow, bolstering the case for Americans to start eating more produce-centric meals. Yet another major report is grabbing headlines — this time it’s a peer-reviewed study from the University of Oxford that says eating a plant-based diet is significantly better for the environment than eating a meat-centered diet.

“There is a strong relationship between the amount of animal-based foods in a diet and its environmental impact, including GHG emissions, land use, water use, eutrophication and biodiversity,” according to the Oxford report. “Dietary shifts away from animal-based foods can make a substantial contribution to reduction of the UK environmental footprint.”

The Oxford study makes a case for everyday omnivores to load up their cart with non-animal products.

For shoppers searching for a sustainable meat swap, the mushroom is the obvious choice. It serves up a sought-after umami flavor and a naturally meaty texture that is not easily mimicked with other whole food, plant ingredients.

“I think mushrooms are having a moment,” McKinzie Koons, who leads marketing and communications at J-M Farms, told The Packer. “The Mushroom Council has been pushing the blend for a long time. In fact, I believe four years ago Sonic picked up a blended burger, and they worked with Sonic directly to develop that.”

While the blended mushroom burger wasn’t an instant hit at the drive-through fast food chain, the Oklahoma-based mushroom producer is seeing a renewed interest in blended burgers and mushroom-based meat alternatives.

“Now, there’s a huge push for it, especially in the school system,” Koons said. “I think you’re going to start seeing that more and more.”

GEARING UP FOR GROWTH
J-M Farms rolled out its expansion in the winter of 2020, and it is now expanding its composting area, the first step to adding more mushrooms in production, Koons said.

In British Columbia, Garth McLean, vice president of sales and marketing for Farmer’s Fresh Mushrooms, told The Packer that it is also preparing for growth.

“We are in the final stages of our major expansion, which will start to roll out in October,” McLean said. “We will be adding an additional 250,000 [pounds] of new production into the marketplace.”

Farmer’s Fresh Mushrooms is eager to cut the ribbon on the company’s $25 million facility expansion, which includes two new bars with 12 new rooms sized at 12,000 square feet each.

“The new barns will use state-of-the-art technology from Holland,” McLean said. “This includes high performance air filters, cooling and heating, growing technology and computer monitoring.”

This year, production at Farmer’s Fresh Mushrooms was down about 10% over the summer because of intense heat waves, he said. But on the upside, the grower-shipper — which produces both conventional and organic white, crimini and portabella mushrooms for Canadian and West Coast markets — is seeing growth in the organic category.

“Organic prices are close to conventional since inflation, so sales in organic are getting stronger,” he added.

Highline Mushrooms is excited to roll out new packaging this summer, introducing its new translucent packaging recently at the Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, Calif. What’s special about this launch is that it eschews the standard colored plastic box for a clear alternative.

“We just launched clear packaging, so consumers can actually see the product they’re buying,” Cambon said.

Not only will this new packaging highlight the high-quality mushroom product itself to entice shoppers, but the translucent packaging is also more recyclable, Cambon said.

Source: ThePacker

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