Retailers are finding that a key to success in the mushroom category is merchandising more than just your basic white or brown varieties.
The Angeli Foods Co. store in Iron River, Mich., carries 19 varieties of mushrooms, said produce manager Gary Simonson.
Conventional whole and sliced white mushrooms are the most popular, but whole and sliced baby portabellas really have gained popularity in recent years, he said.
Simonson attributes their newfound fame to their “better flavor and better appearance after they’ve been cooked” than white mushrooms.
The fact that the price point is not much more than that of white mushrooms also helps.
Sales of other varieties seem to have inched upward, while sales of whites remains steady, he said.
The company sells bulk and packaged mushrooms, but the bulk product tends to be the more expensive mushrooms, like shiitake and oyster varieties, “where people might just want a couple of them.”
Simonson thinks some of the increasing popularity of mushrooms is a result of their frequent appearances on TV cooking shows, and because consumers are becoming more aware of their health benefits.
Oyster mushrooms are a good example, he said.
In the past, he would have to throw away half of those he received.
“Now, I can’t keep them on the shelf,” Simonson said.
The independently owned Ralph’s Red Apple market in Bremerton, Wash., offers whole and sliced white mushrooms, brown crimini mushrooms and portabellas, said produce manager John Walker.
They’re available bulk or in 8-ounce packages and merchandised in a 4-foot display.
The store also offers chanterelles when they’re in season in the fall, he adds.
Shoppers are as likely to pick up packaged mushrooms as they are bulk product at Ralph’s Red Apple, he said.
“Some like to grab and go, and others prefer to pick their own,” Walker said.
Packaged product is on ad more often, though. The store features mushrooms in its ad about twice a month.
Walker said he has no preference whether he puts out bulk or packaged product.
Angeli’s features one type of mushroom on ad just about every week — usually whole whites or baby portabellas or sliced white mushrooms, Simonson said.
A couple of times a year, the store will feature all the mushroom varieties in one ad.
Simonson also has noticed sales becoming consistent year-round.
“The whole category has stabilized over a whole year,” he said.
He thinks that’s partially because more consumers now grill mushrooms — especially large portabellas — in summer.They’re not just an accompaniment for winter meals any longer.
Larger, white gourmet mushrooms also are becoming more popular than in the past.
The store also stocks some specialty mushrooms, like trumpet, porcini and enokis.
Consumers seem to prefer organic versions of the high-end mushrooms.
“If it’s organic, it’s like a bonus,” he said. “Organic customers like to try something different.”
Ralph’s Red Apple occasionally carries some organic mushrooms, Walker said.
As is typically the case in the mushroom category, white mushrooms are the bestsellers at the store, followed by the brown crimini mushrooms.
Walker said mushrooms always have been a popular category, and sales have remained steady over the past few years.
Mushrooms are popular year-round, he said, though he often notices a sales bump for portabellas during the summer grilling season.