Shoppers Seek Specialty Mushrooms

Specialty mushroom sales are growing and that can turn into produce department gains if given enough consideration.

Each variety cultivates a unique flavor profile to discover.

Originally printed in the February 2024 issue of Produce Business.

Selling specialty mushrooms can be a tricky business, but just about any store can create an effective presentation mushroom that includes specialty mushrooms with a little effort.

Even if they have to be supplemented occasionally by dried specialty mushrooms, fresh specialty mushrooms can be a solid performer if conspicuously merchandised and carefully tended. Preparation instructions can help, too, so that people less familiar with specialties get a leg up on their use.

Tom Cingari Jr., vice president, produce, floral, and e-commerce at Cingari Family Markets, Norwalk, CT, said finding a balance in mushroom sales is important and requires adjustment as purchasing patterns and circumstances change.

“Mushroom sales were up in the pandemic,” he says. “People were cooking more, so when they’re using fresh ingredients, the mushroom in a recipe, they have to go out and get that mushroom.”

He warns, however, that specialty mushrooms have to be monitored regularly, both in terms of their handling requirements as well as fluctuating demand.

Specialty mushrooms have to be monitored regularly, both in terms of their handling requirements as well as fluctuating demand.

The ability to develop a productive specialty mushroom also depends on the space available. Marc Goldman at Morton Williams has to be selective in how he balances mushrooms in the relatively small produce sections he operates in his mostly Manhattan stores. Currently, porcini is his best-selling specialty mushroom.

Anne-Marie Roerink, president of 210 Analytics, San Antonio, TX, and produce retail consultant who works with The Mushroom Council, says, overall, the specialty mushroom sector has grown.

“Specialty mushrooms have been a bright spot in the produce department, albeit a relatively small one,” she says.

Sales of specialty mushrooms in the traditional channels, as measured by Circana, total $74 million, or about 6% of total mushroom sales, Roerink says, adding dollar sales have increased 1.7% over the 52 weeks ending Sept. 10, 2023, versus the same time period last year.

“While the dollar growth was boosted by inflation, specialty mushrooms experienced real growth as well,” she adds. “Over the same time period, specialty mushrooms grew 1.1% in pounds whereas total vegetables were down 1.1%.”

Specialty mushrooms have multiple constituencies.

“Foodies, mushroom lovers, nutrition-forward and money-saving consumers alike are fueling interest in specialty mushrooms,” says Roerink. “Whereas white mushrooms are typically the entry point into the category, more adventurous eaters often start integrating shiitake, maitake, oyster and more. This is fueled by many trends, including health and wellness, that have shoppers looking for foods that deliver important nutrients.”


Some specialty mushrooms are more familiar to U.S. consumers than others. Again, citing numbers from Circana, the Chicago-based market research firm, Roenick says shiitakes are a standout.

“Shiitake accounts for $56 million out of the total $74 million in the Circana universe,” she says. “Shiitake also accounts for much of the growth, with dollars up 4% over the latest 52 weeks and pounds up by 3.5%.”

Retailers are recognizing this momentum, she adds, and more are starting to carry shiitake, with the weekly ACV (all commodity volume) distribution up by 2% to 43% of stores. Availability is highest in the Northeast, AT 52% ACV; and West, 56% ACV; and far below average in the South Central region, 19%, of the country. “That means there is still a lot of runway for shiitake and other specialty varieties to grow on distribution alone.”


Sean Stellar, director of business development, Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, PA, is another who sees specialty mushroom gains.

“Overall mushroom consumption is slowly trending away from the market-leading white variety toward the other more specialty items,” says Stellar. “This has created an interesting challenge, as more production has shifted toward cremini and portobello, which generally grow with lower yields per square foot, and more potential challenges.”

Celebration of specialty mushrooms continues to increase as more consumers learn about, and try different varieties, he adds. “The across-the-board ‘I don’t like mushrooms’ usually does not apply anymore, as each variety cultivates a unique flavor profile, and potential medicinal benefits.”

Consistency in merchandising is important to specialty mushroom sales.

In addition to white, cremini and portobello, Phillips Mushroom Farms currently grows shiitake, oyster — gray, yellow, pink — maitake, lion’s mane and royal trumpet mushrooms.

Chris Johansen, Buona Foods, Landenberg, PA, says, even if they are not the big volume generators, specialty mushroom sales are growing — and that can turn into produce department gains, if given enough consideration.

Buona Foods ships a full line of exotic mushrooms: shiitake, oyster, maitake, king oyster, etc., and also offers wild foraged mushrooms and dried mushrooms. “These specialty mushrooms have been the growth leaders in the industry, with the highest sales increases by percentage,” says Johansen. “The volumes are still slight when compared to white and brown mushrooms, but the demand is there as people learn more about their uses.”

A reevaluation of diet is prompting an embrace of specialty mushrooms’ nutrition attributes. “The health benefits of mushroom varieties such as lion’s mane and maitake have certainly helped boost sales of exotic mushrooms,” says Johansen.

A bigger driver, however, is the move toward more plant-based diets. “People are exploring the diversity of exotic mushroom preparations in a lot of fun ways,” he explains. “King oyster mushrooms can be used to mimic scallops or pulled pork. Pom pom mushrooms can be substituted for crab meat. Shiitake mushrooms can be used to make mock bacon, and maitake mushrooms can be cooked in such a way as to take on the look, texture and flavor of steak.”

C.P. Yeatman & Sons/Mother Earth, Landenberg, PA, offers organic mushrooms and handles such specialties as gray and yellow oysters, shiitake, lion’s mane, royal trumpets, maitake and pioppino.
“Specialty mushrooms are exploding in the marketplace,” says Meghan Klotzbach, vice president of sales, marketing and operations. “The biggest moves we have seen are with the gray oysters and lion’s mane. It’s great to see more people branching out their love for mushrooms.”

Despite some sluggishness in the market overall after gains that took off in 2019, specialty produce has been making strides, she notes, particularly oyster and lion’s mane. Overall, whites, cremini and portobello are still the strongest movers for Mother Earth.


Wellness considerations are focal points for Mother Earth operations. “Mushrooms have so many great nutritional benefits and are the hottest topic because of that right now,” says Klotzbach. “We sell more organic specialty mushrooms than conventional. I believe that the trend for health and wellness includes moving to organic produce.”

Sales of specialty mushrooms in the traditional channels, as measured by Circana, total $74 million, or about 6% of total mushroom sales.

“One of the coolest trends over the last few years is the explosion of information and awareness of lion’s mane,” says Phillips Mushroom Farms’ Stellar. “You would be surprised how far visitors will travel to visit our farm to learn more about this delicious mushroom.”

“We are starting to see strong, consistent demand at retail trials for the first time, and we anticipate lion’s mane will be a staple on retail shelves within the next few years.”


An emphasis on proper handling is critical to a specialty mushroom program, with temperature maintenance a foremost consideration.

“Mushrooms have a very short shelf-life,” says Stellar. “Cold chain management is the top focus as mushrooms can begin to break down quickly outside of refrigeration. Part of the equation is frequent deliveries, while holding low inventory levels to avoid overstocking fresh mushroom items.”

Roerink also underscores the importance of good handling practices. “Aside from looking for sales promotions, preventing food waste is one of the chief measures consumers are taking in the light of financial pressure on income, according to the August Circana survey,” she says. “That means consumers are looking for ultimate freshness and quality to ensure every dollar spent is a dollar consumed.”

Fresh specialty mushrooms can be a solid performer if conspicuously merchandised and carefully tended.

“In the case of specialty mushrooms, this is extra important for the simple reason that the price per pound is much higher than that of white or cremini mushrooms.”

At-home storage tips could be a much-appreciated aid to waste reduction.

Diligence is a requirement in specialty mushroom merchandising.

“Do not place them under the lights, do not place under misters, do not stack the containers,” Klotzbach says. “Bulk should be moved into the back coolers overnight to help maintain temperature and humidity levels, and produce clerks need to rotate old product off the shelves.”

Still, handling requirements shouldn’t be a reason to avoid stocking specialty mushrooms, Johansen says.

“As long as they are handled in a similar manner to your white and brown mushrooms, they should hold up just fine on the shelf or in the refrigerator,” he says. “Fresh, wild mushrooms vary greatly in their shelf life and storage conditions. Learn about each kind and take appropriate steps to ensure they maintain freshness over time.”

Johansen says consistency in merchandising is important to specialty mushroom sales.

“Regardless of the mushroom variety, the key to merchandising them is maintaining a cohesive category set,” he says. “A block of mushrooms, 4- or 8-feet wide from top to bottom on the greens wall, offers an attractive presentation. Maximize the visibility of the labels and the mushrooms; don’t overstuff the shelves or bottom well, and keep your exotics and value-added products near eye level.”

And he echoes Klotzbach: Avoid misters hitting mushroom packages. “There are small holes in the film that allow mushrooms to breathe and stay fresh. Water in the mushroom tills will greatly reduce the shelf life.”


Klotzbach says togetherness in the produce section is good for organic mushrooms as well.

“Near each other is best. Sometimes I see a small organic display shoved in the corner, but you want to make sure they are more prominent in the store,” she says.

Retailers are likely to do better by treating the whole mushroom category as a family, Stellar agrees.
“We recommend all fresh mushrooms be displayed in the same area,” he says. “This makes it easier for consumers looking for fresh mushrooms to view all options in one place. It may also lead someone to try a new item.”

Cross-merchandising any refrigerated product can be challenging, but there are a few opportunities available, Johansen says, for example, include shiitakes in the Asian veg section of your produce wall if you have one.

Retailers are likely to do better by treating the whole mushroom category as a family.

“Dried mushrooms can get additional attention near spices or dry pasta in the grocery aisles,” he adds. “Mushrooms can also find a profitable home in the meat department, lending to complementary purchases. Our Buona Foods Mushroom Gourmet Crumble is a perfect inclusion alongside ground proteins, as it is meant to offer a quick and easy way to blend chopped mushrooms into any dish to make it healthier and more delicious.”

Roerink says specialty mushrooms have certain advantages when it comes to cross-merchandising.

“Retailers are capitalizing on the visual beauty of specialty mushrooms and their ability to engage consumers,” she says. “Several retailers around the country, ranging from Central Market in Austin to the brand-new Byerly’s in Minnesota, have elaborate displays, including growing mushrooms in-store. Doubling in size overnight, mushrooms are a great platform for retailers to educate consumers about how their food is grown.”

• • •

From Restaurants to Retail: Familiarity Breeds Specialty Mushroom Demand

Interest in specialty mushrooms has grown over the past several decades, thanks in large part to the integration of them into restaurant fare. Also, with the explosion of online cooking videos and preparation instruction, consumers who have more than a casual interest in food see them put into dishes.

“Foodservice has a huge role in the mushroom category transformation,” says Sean Stellar, director of business development, Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, PA. “Everything starts with innovative menu items, consumer experiences, and the desire to cook with specialty mushrooms at home.”

At the onset of the pandemic, there was a huge increase in demand from consumers for specialty mushrooms. Consumers knew about mushrooms such as maitake and oyster from trips to their favorite restaurants. “Forced to eat at home, consumers quickly adapted to adding fresh mushrooms to their shopping list,” Stellar explains. “This trend will absolutely continue as more mushroom varieties are readily available to consumers across the country.”

Anne-Marie Roerink, produce retail consultant and president of 210 Analytics, San Antonio, TX, points out that foodservice treatment of specialty mushrooms can give them a certain cachet.

“Restaurant chefs love leveraging mushrooms to upscale meals,” she says. “According to Datassential, specialty mushrooms make frequent appearances in LTOs (limited time offers). On menus, specialty mushrooms are often listed as exotic, gourmet, etc. and you’ll see this same terminology come back on retail labels as well.”

Organics also get a boost from foodservice, as vegan and vegetarian restaurants use mushrooms so frequently in the menu items, says Meghan Klotzbach, vice president of sales, marketing and operations, C.P. Yeatman & Sons/Mother Earth, Landenberg, PA.

“Foodservice has definitely helped,” she says.

• • •

Handling Challenges with Merchandising Dry and Fresh Mushrooms Together

By Mike Duff

Opinions about merchandising dried mushrooms with fresh differ, but just about everyone agrees that associating them requires judgment.

The association can help satisfy customers who like a particular mushroom the store doesn’t generate enough volume to carry fresh, and, ultimately, build consumption and sales for the entire mushroom category over time.

Merchandising dry and fresh together presents one of the handling challenges that come along with specialty mushrooms.

“It is important to keep dried mushrooms out of damp areas, as the moisture will promote mold growth inside the package,” says Chris Johansen, Buona Foods, Landenberg, PA.

Alternative strategies include merchandising dried mushrooms with products such as dried pepper, herbs or garlic.

“If that dry display area is within visual range of the refrigerated mushroom set, customers will have an easier time finding it,” he says.

Produce managers should consider how to keep dried mushrooms out of harm’s way but in as close association with fresh mushrooms as practical, says Sean Stellar, director of business development, Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, PA.

“There are many strategies to approach dried mushroom merchandising. Keeping fresh and dried together can make it easier for consumers looking for ‘mushrooms.’ At the same time, many consumers may be looking for dried mushrooms among other dried soup ingredients. I recommend a strategy of providing dried mushrooms next to fresh, to provide more options to consumers. At Phillips, we dry each variety of our mushrooms in house, which makes a great cost-effective option on the shelf for both consumers and retailers.”

On dried mushrooms, Meghan Klotzbach, vice president of sales, marketing and operations, C.P. Yeatman & Sons/Mother Earth, Landenberg, PA. warns, “They can be in the produce department, but they shouldn’t be in the refrigeration and definitely not under or near misters, as the moisture will damage the product.”