A burger featuring a mushroom-meat blend. ( Photo courtesy The Mushroom Council )

If you ask mushroom marketers what the next step is after The Blend, their response is quick and practically universal: They won't need to take such a step for some time.

The blending of mushrooms and ground meat is full of yet-to-be-explored possibilities, marketers say, and they have only begun to examine its potential.

Nutrition is one reason, said Kevin Donovan, sales manager for Kennett Square, Pa.-based Phillips Mushroom Farms.

"I think as the government agencies, (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and so forth, keep developing more nutritional guidelines, I think you'll see increased interest in The Blend because of its reduction of sodium needed and the nutritional benefits of it," he said.

The vitamin D content holds keen interest for nutritionists, and that will keep The Blend alive for years to come, Donovan said.

"In a few years, I think you will see a governmental push for vitamin D because of the many, many people that are deficient in vitamin D in the U.S.," he said.

As powerful a marketing tool as The Blend has been for mushroom marketers, there are still some possible horizons to explore, said Fletcher Street, sales and marketing director with Olympia, Wash.-based Ostrom Mushroom Farms.

"There is steady growth in the demand for exotics, mostly cultivated, in foodservice and at retail - items like sliced shiitake retail packages and mixed exotic bulk cases for foodservice," Street said.

Mushrooms have had strong foodservice demand as the consumer demand for vegetables increases, and they also have helped to offset the higher cost of meat, Street said.

"That may change a bit as meat prices level off or decline," she said.

"In foodservice, sliced mushrooms are dominating whole product and will continue to do so as offsetting labor will be a target for cost cutting."



But, for the moment - and the foreseeable future - The Blend has the industry's attention, and deservedly so, said Kevin Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing with Avondale, Pa.-based To-Jo Mushrooms Inc.

"Blendability has the biggest potential to increase consumption for the mushroom industry," he said.

Marketers continue to see blended burgers and other blended items pop up on national menus, Delaney said.

"Our goal is to see more blended burgers make it to the retail counters so that consumers begin adopting this method in their own homes," he said.

The San Jose, Calif.-based Mushroom Council says consumers are hearing about and trying mushroom-blended foods.

A recent consumer research study conducted on behalf of the council showed nearly one-third of consumers surveyed had heard about The Blend and, of those who have already tried it, 98% plan to continue ordering and/or making blended foods.

Blended burgers account for 35% of consumers' interest in The Blend, followed by tacos, meatloaf, meat sauces and chili, the council said.

"Consumers are looking for ways to eat healthier and that means eating more fresh produce, reducing consumption of processed foods and eating smaller portions of proteins, and they are looking to do this without compromising flavor. That's where The Blend plays an important role," said Jane Rhyno, sales and marketing director with Leamington, Ontario-based Highline Mushrooms.

The Blend allows retailers to offer value-added products in the meat and deli departments, Rhyno said.

Look for blend-related promotions to continue well into the future, said Vince Versagli, sales director with South Mill Mushroom Sales and Kaolin Mushroom Farms Inc. in Kennett Square, Pa.

"The Mushroom Council has done a good job with the introduction and promotion of this concept and we believe the focus on The Blend should continue," he said.

Part of the attraction of blending is versatility, said Gale Ferranto, co-owner of Landenberg, Pa.-based grower-shipper Buona Foods Inc.

"We're seeing it in pasta sauces, taco blends," she said.

"It's a great thing to do because you can roast, sautee, chop them. That's the story."