Mushrooms are one of the most popular produce items for the foodservice industry.
Half of all mushrooms grown in the U.S. could be destined for restaurants or other places where they’re eaten outside the home.
The San Jose, Calif.-based Mushroom Council has made a big push into the foodservice market, said president Bart Minor.
“Promoting to the foodservice sector is vital because retail sales result when people try a dish made with mushrooms at restaurants and want to duplicate it at home,” he said.
“The increase in mushroom usage for breakfast and lunch could be a derivative from the foodservice industry.”
Foodservice business was hit hard by the recession, said Joe Caldwell, vice president of Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif. But over the past year, it has begun to return to previous levels in many areas.
Bill Litvin, vice president of sales and national account manager for Giorgio Foods Inc., Temple, Pa., said foodservice customers who buy from Giorgio are almost all showing good sales growth.
“Obviously, some parts of the country were harder hit by the recession, and continue to struggle,” he said.
Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., Sebastopol, Calif., tries to develop a connection with chefs, restaurants and fine food, said Bob Engel, chef liaison.
“Chefs love new ingredients,” said Engel, who has 25 years experience as a chef.
When chefs use ingredients that diners enjoy but haven’t tasted before, like the company’s Velvet Pioppini mushrooms with dark chocolate-colored caps and cream-colored stems, “it makes (the chefs) look good,” Engel said.
Up to 75% of the company’s mushrooms go to foodservice accounts, either through wholesale distributors or directly to chefs.
Monterey Mushrooms sells about 35% of its volume to the foodservice sector, Caldwell said.
The most popular varieties continue to be the white button, portabella, and baby bella varieties, he said. But growth continues for specialty mushrooms, specifically, oysters and shiitakes.
“Many restaurants, specifically pizza houses, prefer to buy their mushrooms pre-sliced to save on labor,” he said.
“Many other restaurants prefer whole mushrooms, as they give them better shelf life and maximum versatility.”
Giorgio Foods ships about 25% of its volume to foodservice accounts, Litvin said.
“Restaurants seem to prefer the sliced mushrooms for the labor savings as well as the size and thickness consistency we can provide,” Litvin said.