Sales of portabellas and their “baby” form, crimini, continue to skyrocket.
“Ports grew 31% in retail dollar sales year over year for October,” said Kathleen Preis, marketing coordinator of the San Jose, Calif.-based Mushroom Council.
“It’s been really exciting because portabellas generally grow in sales during grilling season in the summer, but in 2013 that continued through the fall,” Preis said.
Sales of white button mushrooms also continue to grow, she said, which proves browns aren’t cannibalizing the white market.
Fletcher Street, director of sales and marketing at Olympia, Wash.-based Ostrom’s Mushrooms, said a warm summer on the West coast boosted sales, but it appears consumers have finally embraced the large meaty mushroom year-round.
“Portabellas lagged a bit as criminis came on strong,” said Street, “but now they’re back up.”
Preis said there’s more awareness for brown mushrooms as people watch TV chefs cooking with them and find recipes in magazines that highlight their earthier, meatier flavor.
“The total brown category is now over 25% of the total mushroom category,” said Joe Caldwell, vice president of Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms, “and we expect that to be 35-40% in the next five years.”
Caldwell said brown mushrooms are more costly to grow because their yields are lower.
Consumers have discovered that browns are just as versatile as white buttons, he said, so they can substitute crimini and have a more flavorful dish and better shelf for a price that’s not much higher.
“There’s probably a sense that browns are more natural and a little more healthy,” he said, “but it’s the same type and species of button mushroom, it’s just a different strain.”
Gary Schroeder, president of Kennett Square, Pa.-based Oakshire Farm Inc., said browns are part of the Naturally Nutritious line he packs for Dole.
“I think people are responding to the fact that the browns have more flavor and texture,” Schroeder said.
At Gonzales, Texas-based Kitchen Pride, white mushrooms represent close to 70% of sales, compared with 90% five years ago, said sales and transportation manager Bill St. John.
“We’re producing fewer total pounds, but we’ve learned how to do things a little better and we have converted some white to brown,” St. John said.
On salad bars however, he said white mushrooms remain king.