The “Blend” trend is expected to make merchandising mushrooms more successful.
Mushrooms often get overlooked by retailers who may not fully appreciate the fact that “mushroom consumers” are very desirable shoppers. After all, they tend to buy more healthy foods and are open to trying new products with higher margins.
According to recent figures by the Mushroom Council, from 2012 to 2016, volume at retail increased +10.4 percent while the average price increased +3 percent and retail sales increased by +13.7 percent. For the 52 weeks ending May 14, 2017, the category grew 2.1 percent, reaching nearly $1.2 billion.
Mike O’Brien, vice president of sales and marketing for Monterey Mushrooms in Watsonville, CA, says the company’s total mushroom category dollar sales growth has been driven by Brown mushrooms. “The conversion from White Button mushrooms to Brown mushrooms continues. If you love mushroom pizza, a Portabella makes the pizza even better,” he says. “It’s the Baby Bella that continues to grow, and in some areas, outsells White mushrooms.”
Victor Savanello, senior director of produce and floral for Allegiance Retail Services, LLC, based in Iselin, NJ, says the two biggest trends are targeting consumers using the mushroom as a protein substitute, like a Portabella hamburger, and targeting foodie consumers looking to emulate a dish sampled in a restaurant or seen on a television cooking show.
“Both these consumers are typically your better shoppers and push the largest carriage through your stores,” says Savanello. “The methods I have found most successful are selling in multiples — trying to get the consumer to take one more package; merchandising mushrooms for cooking with proteins in the ad as a cross-merchandising practice; and suggestive selling by using an over-line in an ad or POS signage — saying things like, ‘Great on the Grill’ or ‘Try me in Salads.’”
It’s All About The Blend
Kevin M. Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Mushrooms Inc., Avondale, PA, says blending mushrooms with beef, turkey or other protein continues to gain traction. “The Mushroom Council has had a tremendous impact in promoting this concept in the foodservice arena. This year, we are seeing the demand and interest increase from the retail side, which is a great sign this trend is here to stay,” he says.
Steven Muro, president of Chatsworth, CA-based Fusion Marketing, which runs the retail segment of the Mushroom Council, says blending meat and fresh mushrooms to make better-tasting and healthier meals like burgers, meatballs, meatloaf and spaghetti sauce is happening all over the country in foodservice and at retail — be it in prepared meats or produce departments.
Recent research by the Mushroom Council shows when the blendability concept is introduced in-store, retailers experienced a 60 percent increase in the sale of fresh mushrooms in the produce department. Retailers also witnessed sales increases in deli (+10 percent) and prepared meat (+12 percent).
“This concept is leading to scores of new recipes that all use fresh, delicious mushrooms,” says Muro.
“New usage ideas are an excellent means to drive fresh mushroom sales. Moreover, consider offering complete menu ideas, not just the ingredients. Showing the complete meal builds appetite appeal and with it impulse purchases.”
— Steven Muro, Fusion Marketing
The Mushroom Council has been focused on creating awareness of a usage concept: The Blend, where consumers create delicious, healthy meals with one simple ingredient — mushrooms. This simple blending strategy plays on mushrooms’ compatibility with meat in terms of taste and texture. “Consumers can springboard their own ideas for mixing mushrooms with meat and other proteins to use to replace some of the meat in burgers, tacos, meatballs, lasagna, spaghetti sauce and more,” says Muro.
Fred Recchiuti, general manager of Basciani Foods Inc., Avondale, PA, says the company packs for a select few retailers, but its real strength is in servicing national foodservice restaurant chains with custom, innovative products upon executive chefs’ requests.
Basciani Foods is one of the companies involved in the Blended Burger Project, a movement in partnership with the James Beard Foundation to make burgers better by blending mushrooms with meat, creating a more nutritious and sustainable burger. “We’re looking to change the way future generations eat with a healthier, more planet-friendly, more flavorful blended burger,” says Recchiuti. “Just by blending one meal a week can make a world of difference.”
Health and Wellness
One of the larger marketing initiatives for Monterey Mushrooms has been promoting the health benefits within the category. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free and low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D, dietary fiber and more. Often categorized with vegetables, mushrooms provide many nutritional attributes of produce, as well as those commonly found in meat, beans and grains.
Looking at current research and sales trends, Threlfall says the health benefits are a prime motivation to purchase the product. “Consumers of all ages are looking for healthy food options, and mushrooms rank right there at the top of their list,” he says. “We are working closely with our retailers to give them the knowledge and tools to promote the multiple health benefits of mushrooms.”
Retailers are using health and nutrition as calling cards — mushrooms play well in that arena with phytonutrients, minerals and being the only produce item with vitamin D. This is especially important with the vast number of consumers with vitamin D deficiency.
“Further, consumers who eat The Blend reduce their intake of fat, calories, sodium and cholesterol while eating a serving of produce,” says Muro. “This concept provides an excellent opportunity to highlight to the shopper base. Retailers with registered dietitians are already focusing on this new healthy eating concept. Adding a serving of produce to a burger, taco or meatballs is something consumers both welcome and enjoy.”
In addition to bulking up protein, mushrooms deliver a savory, earthy taste because of their umami. “Because umami flavor is so robust, it allows you to use less salt when cooking,” adds Muro.
Playing to consumer demand for pesticide-free fruits and vegetables, Brian Threlfall, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Giorgio Fresh Co., in Blandon, PA, says organic has been the leading growth category in mushrooms. “At Giorgio, we continue to meet consumers’ growing demand for organic mushrooms by offering a complete fresh mushroom line that includes White whole and sliced, Baby Bella whole and sliced, Portabella caps and sliced caps, Shiitake whole and sliced, Royal Trumpet, Maitake and Beech. Giorgio’s business has grown significantly year over year, and we are seeing continued growth in 2017. There is no question the health and nutritional story of mushrooms has fueled the growth, along with the growing popularity of specialty and organic mushrooms.”
Another area retailers can raise the mushroom profile is with value-added offerings, such as kabobs, salads and stuffed mushrooms. To-Jo Mushrooms’ Delaney says consumers are always looking for new ideas and new ingredients, and specialty mushrooms offer an opportunity for retailers to encourage shoppers to experiment with product outside their comfort zone.
Muro says value-added mushroom sales have shown great strength in the past 52 weeks, with California showing an increase of 23.5 percent, the Southeast an increase of 32.9 percent and the West a 13.3 percent increase. Total poundage has also increased, 14.8 percent from 2016.
“Demand for other value-added items that include mushrooms is certainly increasing because of the convenience they offer,” says Muro. “New usage ideas are an excellent means to drive fresh mushroom sales. Moreover, consider offering complete menu ideas, not just the ingredients. Showing the complete meal builds appetite appeal and with it impulse purchases.”
The Mushroom Council offers best practices tips such as using secondary displays that tie in with complementary products and promoting a range of fresh mushrooms year-round with attractive discounts during selected time periods.
To be successful at mushroom sales, Muro says offering an assortment of varieties, types and package sizes helps make the purchasing decision easier. “Consumers have learned variety is key to creating exciting and memorable dishes. From traditional White Button to meaty Portabella and Cremini to other delicately flavored varieties, there is a variety for every need, every recipe. Having a broad range of offerings will increase category sales,” he says.
Mushrooms have a unique story to tell with some key “selling points.” The best tactics for retailers to show consumers they care is to use attractive displays with clear labeling and pricing, feature ongoing promotional activity and include a focus on health, recipe concepts and meal kit options.
“We are putting an emphasis on the flavor, health benefits and the tremendous value fresh mushrooms represent,” says Giorgio Fresh’s Threlfall. “We also have focused on the trend-to-blend and reducing fat and sodium by substituting portions of meat with mushrooms. By thinking differently, we are changing the way mushrooms are marketed and how consumers view them.”
Allegiance’s Savanello says merchandising mushrooms with protein as an alternative and offering recipe cards or online recipes to stimulate cooking and at-home menu creation help sell more mushrooms. “Listing attributes in your ad, or on store signage helps consumers discover the health benefits of the different varieties,” he says.
Monterey Mushrooms just launched a summer grilling webpage along with the introduction of its recipe ebook, 10 Ways to Kebab with Mushrooms. “Our goal is to encourage consumers to grill with mushrooms this summer,” says O’Brien. “The web page includes recipe videos along with the free, downloadable ebook filled with pro-grilling tips and recipe ideas.”
O’Brien says mushrooms are one of the most perishable categories in the produce department. To minimize shrink and maximize sales it’s important to know the consumer base and offer variety that matches the store demographics. “Sophisticated category management is how retailers optimize their shelf space to maximize their sales and profits,” he says. “Also important is the utilization of scan sales, purchases and shrink data, and matching demographics to your planograms. Access to IRI or Nielson data is also an important component of category management.”
Still, perhaps the biggest challenge in merchandising mushrooms focuses on education. Basciani’s Recchiuti would like stores to educate consumers about the benefits of becoming a “blenditarian” and offering chopped mushrooms by the ground beef in the meat section.
“We work closely with our retail partners to provide as much educational material and training as needed to help promote the category,” says To-Jo Mushrooms’ Delaney. “Sometimes the challenge with mushrooms is identifying which message will have the best impact. Chefs and consumers use mushrooms to enhance flavor in their dishes while many consumers will add mushrooms for health reasons.”
Retailers can help spur mushroom sales by providing information to the consumer at point-of-purchase, highlighting the nutritional benefits and versatility of fresh mushrooms. “Helping shoppers with recipes, nutrition and information about all the varieties of mushrooms carried is a winning method to grow category sales,” says Muro.