White mushrooms remain the bestselling variety, but not by as much as in the past.
Nationally, white mushrooms account for about 71% of sales compared with about 90% a decade or so ago, said Bill St. John, sales director for Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas.
Brown mushrooms account for about 27% of pounds sold, and specialty mushrooms make up the rest, he said.
Crimini mushrooms — or baby portabellas — continue to be an up-and-coming variety because they have more taste and texture than white button mushrooms, though they’re not as tasty as mature portabellas, St. John said.
Portabellas have been popular for several years, and demand continues to climb, he said. But on a percentage basis, criminis are showing the biggest change.
Demand for oyster mushrooms is two or three times what it was a couple of years ago, but still it’s still just a small percent of the total, he said.
At Highline Mushrooms, Leamington, Ontario, the bestselling variety continues to be the white followed by the crimini portabella, said Jane Rhyno, director of sales and marketing.
“We also source and distribute a large variety of exotic mushrooms including shiitake, beech and king oyster mushrooms,” she said.
The king oyster mushroom has been an up-and-coming exotic variety in many markets, she said, especially those with large Asian populations.
Peter Wilder, marketing director for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., said the specialty and organic mushroom categories are starting to grow.
In the specialty category, sliced shiitakes are becoming more mainstream, he said.
Joe Caldwell, vice president of Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif., agreed.
“We’ve seen growth in the specialty varieties over the past year,” he said, and he expects that growth to continue.
Shiitake and oyster have been the top specialty varieties.
“Now some of the lesser-known specialties like maitake and king oyster are seeing growth as well,” he said.
Giorgio Fresh Co., Blandon, Pa., grows mushrooms “that suit every taste bud,” said Bill Litvin, senior vice president of sales and national account manager.
The company offers portabellas, baby portabellas, shiitake and oyster mushrooms as well as organic white mushrooms, baby portabellas and portabellas at its farms in Berks County, Pa.
“One of my personal favorites is the royal trumpet, also known as the king oyster,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind that once people try this mushroom, they will fall deeply in love with it just like I did.”
Sales and prices of wild mushrooms, like chanterelle, morel and hedgehog are related, said Fletcher Street, director of marketing and sales for Ostrom Mushroom Farms, Olympia, Wash.
“If it’s a good season, there are a lot of mushrooms, and the price is low, we can do quite a bit of business with (wild mushrooms),” she said. “But we’ve had some really spotty seasons the last couple of years.”
Wild mushrooms are almost a special-order type of business, she said. They’re purchased primarily by chefs at white-tablecloth restaurants and by “foodie folks,” she said.
Most don’t have an adequate shelf life for commercial sales, she said, and they tend to “intimidate” many consumers.
They make up only about 1% of the market, she estimated.
One of the bestselling items at Ponderosa Mushrooms & Specialty Foods, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, is the fresh-prepared Chef’s Mix — a mixture of six to eight wild and specialty mushrooms — said president Joe Salvo.
There’s also an Asian mix, a mixture of whole Asian-style mushrooms, such as shiitake, king oyster and shimeji.
In all, the company offers about 40 kinds of specialty and wild mushrooms, many of which are specially cultivated, he said.
St. John attributes the growing popularity of various mushroom varieties to efforts of the Mushroom Council to spread the word about them by working with chefs in restaurants and on TV food shows.
“The more exposed people are (to mushrooms), the more comfortable they are with them,” he said.
There’s been a big improvement in educating consumers about how to prepare mushrooms and demonstrating how versatile and to easy to use they are, he said.