Mushrooms no longer are a so-called impulse purchase, in the lexicon of marketers.
The San Jose, Calif.-based Mushroom Council points to the category’s string of sales increases in recent years as evidence that mushrooms are as much a staple item as potatoes and onions.
Retailers are noticing the trend, said Bart Minor, 13-year president and chief executive officer of the council.
“We have an edge over most items in the produce section in that roughly 95% mushroom sales are in packages,” he said.
“So we have an opportunity with a label, with a package, with a little billboard in every grocery store every day, reaching millions and millions of consumers at point of sale”
Most produce items sold by bulk don’t have a similar opportunity to communicate with consumers as point of sale with a package, and mushroom industry is doing a better job of capitalizing on that advantage, he said.
The council reported that mushrooms had increased their retail sales performance for the third straight year in 2010.
In fact, according a retail sales update the council released July 20, mushroom sales were up 2.9% and by 1.8% in pounds sold from June 2010 to June 2011.
Sales of sliced brown mushrooms were up nearly 9% across most regions in June.
Consumers are now accustomed to purchasing mushrooms on a regular basis, said Jane Rhyno, sales and marketing director at Leamington, Ontario-based Highline Mushrooms.
“Mushrooms are such a natural addition to every meal, and they are primarily purchased to be an ingredient in cooking,” Rhyno said.
“With the trend during the economic troubles for consumer to do more at home cooking, mushrooms are a natural produce item to be purchased more frequently.”
A bad economy, starting with the stock market crash of 2008, combined with soaring fuel prices, cut into restaurant traffic, but it didn’t affect mushroom sales, marketing agents said.
“Sales did not suffer at retail,” said Fred Recchiuti, marketing director at Avondale, Pa.-based Basciani Mushroom Farms.
“I think that had a lot to do with people, a lot of people now are saying, ‘We’re not going to a five-star restaurant for dinner Friday night, but maybe we’ll get some high-end stuff at the grocery store to feed themselves. It’s the trading-down scenario.”
Use tips are helpful sales agents at retail, said Kevin Donavan, sales manager at Kennett Square, Pa.-based Phillips Mushroom Farms.
“Most of what we do here is retail, and the promotional discounts are still being done, but they’re also going in combination with the recipes and how to use and what to use,” he said.
“I think that’s also helping to promote the mushrooms.”
Larger packs available at retail are drawing consumer attention, said Tom DeMott, chief operating officer of San Ramon, Calif.-based Encore Associates, which analyzes data for the Mushroom Council.
“What’s happening this year is the upsizing on whites,” DeMott said.
“There’s been a good strong trend of retailers offering and consumers buying a little bit larger packages of whole and sliced mushrooms. Rather than the traditional 8- or 6-ounce, we’re seeing more 10-, 12-, 16-ounce packages of white mushrooms going out the door.”
“Mushrooms are extraordinarily healthy, and I think people are recognizing the value,” DeMott said.
“Mushrooms are generally enjoying a renaissance right now. They’re very similar to onions from the perspective that no one buys an onion just to eat an onion. And no one buys mushrooms just to eat a mushroom. So you’re making salads and sauces. Certainly with the portabellas that’s become a great substitute for people interested in grilling mushrooms.”
The brown mushrooms have been particularly effective in that vein, DeMott said.
“Portabellas are fantastic on the grill, so I think you have this whole renaissance going with mushrooms that’s been very positive,” he said.