Originally printed in the July 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Mushrooms are mushrooming on restaurant menus.
The shroom boom is everywhere, and foodservice operators certainly know why, says Pam Smith, RDN, foodservice consultant for The Mushroom Council, headquartered in Lee’s Summit, MO.
“Mushrooms’ inherent craveability, meaty qualities, and broad appeal make them the ideal ingredient for creative menu development,” Smith says. “Our most recent data finds year-over-year sales increasing 16.4% from 2021 to 2022, which is great momentum.”
It’s remarkable how mushrooms can be utilized in countless ways, adds Bryan Shelton, vice president of sales and marketing for the Giorgio Fresh Co., in Toughkenamon, PA. “They seamlessly fit into every cuisine, accommodate various dietary preferences, and can be incorporated into any meal of the day.”
A good example of this versatility is the private dinner hosted for buyers at the upscale Windsor Club by Highline Mushrooms, in Leamington, Ontario. Each of the five courses not only featured mushrooms, but an assortment of fungi, according to Devon Kennedy, the mushroom company’s national sales director.
Examples of three of these courses are a Venison Carpaccio appetizer with button mushroom salad, King Oyster Scallop flavored by bacon, miso maple, sake, a scallion relish, and chile oil; and a Maple Mushroom Crème Brulé, made with dried bella mushrooms.
Another big plus for mushrooms is their consistent year-round availability.
“If you have it on the menu, especially for chain restaurants, it must be available year-round or it’s a costly missed opportunity.”— Fred Recchiuti, Basciani Foods
“If you have it on the menu, especially for chain restaurants, it must be available year-round or it’s a costly missed opportunity. Fresh mushrooms are available 365 days a year, and we have four distribution and processing facilities to be close to our customers,” says Fred Recchiuti, general manager of Basciani Foods Inc., headquartered in Avondale, PA, with locations in Orlando, FL; Chicago, IL; and Roseville, MN.
QUICK SERVE, FAST CASUAL AND COMMODITY MUSHROOMS
Consumer demand trends driving what variety of fresh mushrooms, and how they are used on the menu, vary by type of foodservice operation.
“QSR menu trends for mushrooms include plant-based options, customization, and health-conscious choices,” says Giorgio Fresh’s Shelton. “QSRs tend to favor the common button and crimini mushrooms. White button and sliced mushrooms are our best-selling variety, closely followed by crimini (baby bella) mushrooms.”
In foodservice, white mushrooms continue to be the market leader, but baby bellas are gaining market share, adds Tony D’Amico, president of To-Jo Mushrooms Inc., in Avondale, PA.
“With some retailers, we have already seen baby bellas outsell whites, and we project that the same will happen over time within foodservice. Baby bellas offer a little more flavor and tend to have better shelf life than whites, which makes them a very attractive option for restaurant owners looking to reduce shrink.”
Earlier this year, Checkers & Rally’s, an 850-location, drive-through QSR chain based in Tampa, FL, ran a limited time offer (LTO) that expanded its lineup of mushroom-infused burgers and sides. The Fried Mushroom Buford features two large 100% beef hamburger patties topped with Swiss cheese, crispy fried baby bella mushrooms, savory mushroom sauce, and caramelized onions on a toasted bun. The chain also launched a side order of fried mushrooms at the same time.
“Mushrooms have the unique ability to serve as a center-of-the-plate alternative. For instance, portobello mushrooms are an excellent example, perfect for grilling or stuffing, offering a flavorful meat substitute,” says Giorgio Fresh’s Shelton.
IN BURGERS OR BOWLS
Meat alternatives, combined with ingredient transparency, are driving demand for mushrooms from consumers, says Chris Johansen, sales and account manager for Buona Foods Inc., in Landenberg, PA.
“Many diners want to reduce their meat consumption, but are unsure of the Beyonds and Impossibles being used by many foodservice operators. This is more impactful at the QSR end of the spectrum.”
A great example of this is Shake Shack’s new mushroom-based Veggie Shack, which Eater, Vox Media’s popular food website, recently declared was a ‘return to good old veggie burgers.’ The New York, NY-headquartered fast-casual chain, with 460-plus locations in the U.S. and the world, uses portobello and shiitake mushrooms, plus sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, leeks, cabbage, beets, garlic, and red onion with miso, farro, and quinoa to bind its burger together.
“If a restaurant doesn’t have options for vegetarians or vegans today, they are going to lose business. Mushrooms are an important ingredient in creating these plant-based offerings,” says Justin Reyes, national sales and marketing director for Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., in Sebastopol, CA.
Like burgers, bowls are popular in Fast Casual restaurants like Sweetgreen Inc., a 150-plus location salad and bowl chain based in Los Angeles, CA. One fresh mushroom example is its Shroomami bowl, with a warm portobello mix served with roasted sesame tofu, raw beets, cucumbers, basil, sunflower seeds, wild rice, and shredded kale with a miso sesame ginger dressing.
“Sweetgreen purchases organic portobello and white mushrooms from us for their bowls, which do very well,” says Meghan Klotzbach, vice president of sales, marketing and operations for C.P. Yeatman & Sons, Inc. and Mother Earth, LLC, based respectively in West Grove, PA, and Landenberg, PA.
“They take advantage of the portobello cap and stem, to reduce waste and save money. Many people do not realize that the portobello stem is just as tasty as the cap and adds a good meaty addition to the meal.”
FINE DINING AND SPECIALTY MUSHROOMS
Fine dining or white tablecloth restaurants focus on culinary innovation, seasonal ingredients, and mushroom-centric dishes, says Giorgio Fresh’s Shelton. “These establishments have expanded their use of mushrooms to include specialty or exotic varieties like shiitake, lion’s mane, white and brown beech, and oyster mushrooms.”
Recently, Giorgio Fresh collaborated with a broad-line distributor and an operator to explore the potential of oyster mushrooms. The operator owned a small group of Persian restaurants, where oyster mushrooms played a prominent role on the menu. “To promote their usage,” Shelton explains, “we offered special pricing on oyster mushrooms and provided oyster bags that served as living decorations, aligning with the restaurant’s theme.”
Specialty mushrooms make up a much smaller share, but are growing at a rapid rate, adds C.P. Yeatman & Sons and Mother Earth’s Klotzbach. “White tablecloth restaurants are looking to build upon the staples they have had on the menu. Many are adding lion’s mane mushrooms, as they are the hottest upcoming variety due to a large amount of nutritional research for brain health.”
On the menu at BuddyLou’s, a single-unit upscale eatery in Hancock, MD, which overlooks the Potomac River, one of the entrée selections is a Lion’s Mane Mushroom Beyond Crabcake Dinner. It comes with two pan-seared Lion’s Mane Mushroom Cakes, along with tartar sauce, french fries or roasted potatoes, roasted veggies, and a side salad.
Like lion’s mane, maitake is becoming more accessible, says Phillips Mushroom Farms’ Steller. “Innovators such as Hip City Veg highlight the delicious maitake mushroom for use in its Maitake Mushroom Burger and Philly Cheesesteak options.”
Hip City Veg is a 100% vegan restaurant, with eight locations in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Specialty mushrooms’ rise in share in foodservice illustrates chefs’ desire to explore newer varieties and takes, says The Mushroom Council’s Smith.
“Shiitakes show strong on menu item inclusion, both for their umami contribution and how well they play in ever-popular Asian bowls. With their wider availability, chefs have been hand-breading and frying or oven roasting royal trumpet ‘tenders,’ fries or poppers, especially in craft and fine casual restaurants.”
Chefs are also using a blend of specialty mushrooms.
“Every mushroom has a different taste and texture,” says Chef Mike Rolon, a Huntington Beach, CA-based consultant chef who has developed recipes for Giorgio Fresh. Rolon uses multiple mushroom varieties in a dish to achieve a desired flavor and mouthfeel. For example, his Mushroom Cakes, developed with crab cakes in mind, use a combination of fresh shiitake, oyster, and chanterelle mushrooms as well as dried morels.
BUYING OPPORTUNITIES: WHOLE, CUT & VALUE-ADDED
Recent data from The Mushroom Council reveals that 49% of mushrooms sold into foodservice are whole and 45% are cut, sliced, or cut into wedges.
“I prefer to order whole mushrooms. That way, I can decide if I want to use them whole or cut. If cut, I can slice, dice, and/or julienne to layer the texture in a recipe,” says Rolon.
Pre-sliced mushrooms are important at the QSR level to help save on labor costs, says Klotzbach. “Pre-sliced do not carry a much larger price tag than whole mushrooms, which makes it easy for chefs to bring in. Sliced mushrooms may not hold up as long as whole mushrooms though, so for freshness, it’s important to maintain the cold chain between 34 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit.”
To enhance the shelf life of sliced mushrooms, Basciani Foods introduced its patented laser microperforated bag for foodservice in 2020. The packaging reduces condensation and allows the mushrooms to ‘breathe’, thus extending the typical 8- to 9-day shelf life of boxed mushrooms, to 21 days.
“We developed this packaging during the pandemic when restaurant operators had a tough time predicting how much they would sell, and thus the quantity of ingredients to buy. Using fresh mushrooms rather than blanched, especially in operations like pizza shops, really upgrades the offering,” says Recchiuti.
The ability to buy smaller quantities of specialty mushrooms has proved advantageous for chefs, says Rolon. “It used to be you’d have to purchase 5 or 10 pounds. Now, growers are more customer service-oriented. As a chef, I can order one pound of a specialty variety or maybe 2 to 3 pounds, depending on the uses.”
From a fresh standpoint, there’s increased interest in specialty mushrooms and mixed mushroom packs, adds To-Jo’s D’Amico. “For example, we offer a product that includes sliced crimini, sliced shiitake, and oyster. This is a great item for roasting and a great way to highlight a premium dish on a menu.”
The Blend, or the culinary technique of combining 25% finely chopped fresh mushrooms with 75% ground meat, is a strong mover of mushrooms at foodservice, according to The Mushroom Council’s Smith. “We estimate that while most of these blends are created back of the house, growers have also worked directly with foodservice operators and manufacturers for value-added blends.”
To make creating blended recipes easier, Buona Foods offers its Mushroom Gourmet Crumble, in retail and foodservice formats. It’s a pre-rinsed, pre-chopped blend of fresh white, baby bella, and portobello mushrooms that can be blended with ground proteins for burgers, tacos, meatballs, meatloaf, and many other dishes. “Poultry and exotic proteins, including chicken, turkey, bison, veal, and game meats are especially suited to this, since they are very lean and mushrooms provide a source of moisture,” says Johansen.
In the end, “by providing the proper mix of mushroom varietals and processing options, whether as whole mushrooms or sliced, we enable operators to unleash their creativity while simplifying the preparation process. This means they can focus on crafting innovative dishes without spending excessive time on mushroom preparation,” says Giorgio Fresh’s Shelton.
• • •
More, More, More Mushrooms!
MOD Pizza went all-in on a mushroom bet — and won big time.
MOD Super-Fast Pizza Holdings LLC, or MOD Pizza, a Seattle, WA-based, fast-casual pizza brand with 500-plus locations across 29 U.S. states and in Canada, ran a winter 2023 ‘Make Room for ’Shrooms’ promotion.
The two-month, limited-time offer (LTO) featured a Super Shroom Pizza and Super Shroom Salad. The pizza began with an umami bomb-based mushroom sauce layered with the flavors of buttons, porcinis and shiitakes, plus Parmesan and Romano cheeses, garlic and herbs. This sauce, spread across the pizza crust, was topped with more fresh mushrooms, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, Italian sausage, fresh spinach and rosemary.
The salad, a combo of spinach and spring mix with fresh sliced and balsamic marinated mushrooms, crumbled bacon, grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, roasted corn, and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing, equally performed in this win-win mushrooms on the menu promotion.
“Customers loved it,” says Scott Uehlein, vice president of culinary excellence and innovation for MOD Pizza, a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate and member of the Business Leadership Council for Menus of Change, an initiative co-founded by the CIA and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Umami is a big buzzword now. Mushrooms deliver that flavor, moisture, texture and versatility, and are not an allergen. They are also a natural flavoring, an economical, as well as sneaky way to add produce.”
“The Super Shroom Pizza was reminiscent of a previous LTO fan favorite, but with improved flavor and eating experience. And the new sauce was easier to execute than previous sauces because it was more spreadable for front-line employees, our ‘Squad,’ while better covering the crust, making every bite delicious.”
“We were excited to see the lift in mushroom sales that followed along with a successful LTO,” adds Pam Smith, RDN, foodservice consultant for The Mushroom Council, headquartered in Lee’s Summit, MO.
• • •
The State of Plant Based in Foodservice report, released in January 2023 by the San Francisco, CA-headquartered based Plant Based Foods Association, in partnership with Datassential, revealed that nearly half (48.4%) of U.S. restaurants offer plant-based options, a 62% growth since 2012.
By segment, Fast Casual had the highest penetration of these offerings at 64.7%; followed by Midscale (53.2%); Casual (50.3%); QSR (41.8%); and Fine Dining (31.6%).
Overall, 28% of operators plan to add more plant-based menu items to their menu in 2023.