Mushrooms are a hot item for foodservice, and many grower-shippers say a large part of their sales are to that sector.

Mushrooms gaining favor at foodservice“Foodservice is a growing part of our business,” said Joe Caldwell, vice president of Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif.

Foodservice business slipped for a few years when the recession began in 2007, he said.

But sales have been picking up steadily over the past couple of years, and the foodservice segment continues to be an important one for the industry, Caldwell said.

“We see most of the trends in mushroom eating and mushroom meals coming out of the foodservice sector,” he said.

Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas, has a good mix of retail and foodservice business, said Bill St. John, sales director.

He said he sees the same changes and trends taking place in both places.

For example, demand for crimini mushrooms — or baby portabellas — is up at foodservice just as it is at retail.

Approximately 30% of the business at Giorgio Fresh Co., Blandon, Pa., is with foodservice, said Bill Litvin, senior vice president of sales and national account manager.

“Giorgio is the go-to partner of foodservice distributors,” Litvin said. “We know what their customers want — consistent quality, great taste and variety.”

The company’s foodservice business has been “fairly stable,” he said.

While foodservice customers rely heavily on traditional products, he said there also is a “creative current in the restaurant trade that looks to try new things.”

Chefs are starting to think beyond sliced white mushrooms, said Peter Wilder, marketing director for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa.

All segments, including quick-service restaurants, fast casual and casual dining, “are starting to look for new opportunities to menu mushrooms in different dishes,” he said.

The company’s exotic blend, which includes portabella, shiitake and oyster mushrooms in a 3-pound box, is a popular foodservice item, he said.

“As we see the demand for calories and labeling on menus, mushrooms are a great way for chefs to offer flavorful dishes without increasing calories or fat,” Wilder said.

The popularity of mushrooms goes beyond restaurants.

Colleges, universities and non-commercial dining segments all are seeing more mushroom penetration, Wilder said.

“Students are asking for them.”

Mushrooms have reached more than 80% menu penetration, Wilder said, its highest rate ever.

He estimated that 35% of To-Jo Mushrooms’ business is with foodservice.

Many mushroom suppliers credited the Mushroom Council’s blendability promotion with boosting foodservice sales.

“One of the hot trends we are focusing on in foodservice is blendability,” said Jane Rhyno, director of sales and marketing for Highline Mushrooms, Leamington, Ontario.

“Finely chopping mushrooms and mixing them with your ground meats helps reduce calories, boost nutrition and add flavor and moisture to a dish,” she said.

For foodservice operators, it also helps reduce costs, since mushrooms cost less than the ground meat they replace, she added.

The blendability concept has been featured in many magazines and on TV cooking shows, Caldwell said.

It’s even taking off in a big way, in school systems, he said, adding, “(The U.S. Department of Agriculture) is very supportive of that approach.”

Chefs are blending mushrooms with beef, pork or poultry for burgers and also using them with meatballs or taco meat, he said.

“It can enhance the flavor of what it is blended with,” he said.

School kids prefer the blended items over straight beef, he said, and it’s lower in fat, calories and sodium

“It’s a lot healthier,” Caldwell said.

“Blended” burgers, tacos and meatloaf also are winning in taste tests among millennials, Wilder said, who also appreciate the sustainability of mushrooms.

“It’s one of the most sustainable items in the produce department from a farming perspective,” he said.