Value-priced white button mushrooms remain the best-selling variety, but grower-shippers say the brown varieties, often considered tastier, are the current growth leaders.
The baby portabella is the most popular variety for Dole Mushrooms, Kennett Square, Pa., said Gary Schroeder, director.
The portabella showed promise when it first came on the scene about 20 years ago, he said.
But over the past 10 years, the baby portabella — crimini — has taken off and is cannibalizing sales of regular portabellas and white mushrooms.
To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., also enjoys strong demand for portabellas, especially during the summer, said Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
In terms of sheer volume, portabellas outsell baby portabellas, but sales of baby bellas are growing, he said.
The main varieties that Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas, offers are portabellas, criminis and white mushrooms, said James Sweatt, director of sales.
The company also offers oyster mushrooms, a few shiitakes and some exotic varieties that it purchases from outside growers.
Kitchen Pride buys only domestic shiitakes, which Sweatt said can cost up to 40% more than imported ones.
At To-Jo Mushrooms, Frederic estimates that white mushrooms account for 70% of sales, while brown mushrooms make up as much as 25%.
In the specialty category, shiitakes far and away have the biggest share, he said.
Many Asian consumers prefer shiitakes, and they’re used in many cuisines to add texture and a stronger, woodsier flavor than many other varieties, he said.
The lagging economy may be preventing specialties from continuing to grow as fast today as they have in the past, he said.
The company, however, has seen “some nice growth” overall in the fresh mushroom category.
Not every grower is seeing the same trends.
Schroeder said the maitake variety never got a lot of traction and that the oyster variety has faded.
However, at Basciani Mushroom Farms, Avondale, Pa., Fred Recchiuti, general manager, thinks the maitake variety is starting to take off.
At Kitchen Pride, Sweatt said oysters have experienced good growth over the past couple of years.
Schroeder thinks portabellas enable Dole Mushrooms to meet its needs, and he added that the shiitake, while not new, has enjoyed strong growth over the past several years.
“I think that will continue,” he said.
Consumers have learned they can enjoy flavor and textures other than what white mushrooms have to offer, he said, and that has prompted shoppers to look for other options.
“The shiitake has been a prime beneficiary of that,” he said, and could well end up being the next variety to start showing up more frequently on menus.
Retailers also are talking about handling more shiitakes, but it’s not likely that shiitakes will achieve the success the portabella has, Schroeder said.
Sales of white mushrooms have been growing, but not to the extent baby portabellas and shiitakes have, he said.
White mushrooms will be the “commodity, low-price alternative for those who prefer bland or are super price sensitive,” he said.
Mushrooms are taking on a new shape at Basciani, Recchiuti said.
The company fresh preps white and crimini mushrooms into precise cuts ranging from two to eight pieces for foodservice accounts.
They can be seen flying through the air in a commercial for Olive Garden restaurants, he said.