As more restaurants — from quick-serve to white-tablecloth establishments — add mushrooms to their menus, and as the effects of the recession subside, grower-shippers are seeing their foodservice business grow.
“We have seen some modest, short-term declines in foodservice demand, but longer term, the business seems to be fairly stable,” said Bill Litvin, vice president of sales and national account manager for Giorgio Foods Inc., Temple, Pa.
Overall, white mushrooms have seen significant growth in the restaurant trade, he said.
“Brown mushrooms — baby portabellas and portabellas — have had a strong following by chefs who appreciate their great flavor and texture,” he said.
Similarly, specialty mushrooms, such as shiitakes, are popular for more unusual, expensive dishes.
“Foodservice sales dropped off sharply during the recession, as people ate out less,” agreed Joe Caldwell, vice president at Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif. “Now we are seeing a steady climb back toward pre-recession levels.”
About 35% of the company’s fresh mushroom sales go to foodservice, Caldwell said.
White button mushrooms still account for more than 70% of the total, but portabellas and baby portabellas now account for almost 25%.
Shiitake continues to be the bestselling specialty variety, followed by oyster, enoki, maitake, and beech, he said.
Highline Mushrooms, Leamington, Ontario, also has seen stable growth in foodservice sales, said Jane Rhyno, director of sales and marketing.
“Our customers are taking the full variety of mushrooms, and we have seen very good growth in some segments, like the crimini,” she said. “Exotics are another subcategory that continues to see growth, especially with the demographic changes in North America.”
About 25% of the volume at Ponderosa Mushrooms & Specialty Foods, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, goes to the foodservice sector, said president Joe Salvo.
The company has a separate division that handles sales for hotels and restaurants.
On a daily basis, the firm prepares its Ponderosa Chef’s Mix — a mixture of six kinds of pre-cleaned, chopped and ready-to-go mushrooms.
While sales to some foodservice customers may be down, the firm continues to add accounts, he said.
The San Jose, Calif.-based Mushroom Council will continue to support the foodservice sector in 2012 by focusing on noncommercial segments, including promotions and social media partnerships with foodservice management companies, said president Bart Minor.
The council plans to continue to work with colleges and universities as well as school districts to promote mushroom consumption among the younger generation, he said.
The council also aims to encourage foodservice operators to blend meat with mushrooms.
“Using mushrooms, which are unique in their ability to blend with meat and deliver the meat-like taste and texture, indeed potentially improve on it, is an exciting new option that has been well-received by chefs, dietitians and policymakers we have exposed to the concept,” he said.
While some mushrooms are used raw on salads, most are cooked in a variety of ways, used as appetizers, such as stuffed portabellas or fried mushrooms, or cut up and served as toppings or ingredients in soups, sauces, casseroles or meatloaf, Caldwell said.
Part of the reason for the popularity of mushrooms is their versatility, he said.
“Mushrooms, while perishable, have tremendous versatility in use for breakfast, lunch and dinner and all ethnic styles — Latin, Mediterranean, Asian, European and American,” he said.
“The beauty of mushrooms is that they complement dishes at every price point,” Litvin said.