Among cultivated mushrooms, the browns have it.
Whole brown mushrooms, mainly crimini and portabella, grew 13% in the past year, and sliced browns grew 18%, said Tom DeMott, chief operating officer of Encore Associates, San Ramon, California.
“In the last three or four years we’ve seen strong double digit growth in browns, both in total pounds and in sliced,” DeMott said.
“I think that’s where a lot of growth in the category is coming from. We’ve seen growth in whites as well, so they don’t appear to be cannibalizing the whites.”
James Sweatt, director of sales for Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms, Gonzales, Texas, said he’s seen crimini sales increase 15% to 20% for different retail customers.
“Some of our major customers continue to push crimini and the category continues to grow,” said Sweatt, who’s spent 15 years in the industry.
The little brown crimini, a relative of the portabella, has more flavor than a white button yet it’s still reasonably priced, he said.
“People looking for something different find them a little exotic but they don’t cost an arm and a leg,” he said.
“They’re about 50 cents more than whites for an 8-ounce package.”
Gary Schroeder, director of Dole mushrooms for Oakshire Mushroom Farm, Kennett Square, Penn., has also seen the little brown mushrooms — which sell better under the more glamorous baby bella name — grow in popularity.
“It’s a long-term trend that still holds true,” he said.
Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, said baby bellas are especially popular in the Northeast.
“I think consumers appreciate their more intense flavor, their hardy texture and good shelf life,” Frederic said.
Portabellas, on the other hand, have had a tougher time in today’s economy.
“Ports are pretty slack,” Sweatt said. “At $3 to $8 a pound, the price may make shoppers cringe.”
With the arrival of grilling season, however, nothing beats a portabella, said Fred Recchiuti, marketing director for Basciani Mushroom Farms, Avondale.
“You take a (zipper) bag, add mushrooms and marinade, shake the bag then put it in the cooler, ready to throw on the grill,” said Recchiuti.
Elizabeth O’Neil, chairwoman of Highline Mushrooms, Leamington, Ontario, said this summer’s sizzling temperatures, compared to last summer’s cool letdown, seem to be fuelling sales of portabellas, which are featured prominently as a grilling item.
“The first mushrooms produced around the turn of the last century were brown, then they went out of favor,” Frederic said.