The question this year for Monterey Mushrooms is not what can you do with mushrooms, it is more like what can’t you do. As retailers and foodservice operators strive to keep their produce departments competitive while keeping flavor and versatility top-of-mind, Monterey Mushrooms is bringing a fresh set of insights, best practices, and new solutions to boost sales, drive traffic, and stay ahead of the game.
Mike O’Brien, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, joins me to talk about the mighty mushroom and how the category is no longer an underdog, but a top performer.
“The mushroom category has performed very well in supermarket produce departments. According to IRI data, the mushroom category outperformed the total produce department in sales dollar growth rate,” Mike shares, adding that this growth was driven by a shift in mix from whites to browns, as well as a continual transition to organic mushrooms.
When I ask Mike why it is so vital for retailers and foodservice operations to look to the mushroom category to elevate the consumer experience, and the produce department itself, he tells me that it’s important to commit to the mushroom category whether you are retail or foodservice because it enhances your overall image.
“The savvy consumer will shop or eat at establishments that provide a full assortment of mushrooms, which will fulfill their recipes or their culinary desires,” Mike shares. “We must not forget that the mushroom category is also a profit generator.”
Monterey Mushrooms recommends merchandising mushrooms in retailers’ very best refrigerated case, next to the bag salad category.
“Mushrooms are one of the most perishable categories in the produce department. To minimize shrink and maximize sales, it’s important to know your consumer and offer the variety that matches the store demographics,” Mike notes.
Once that is determined, he says, it’s blocking and tackling:
Maintain the cold chain from farm to retail shelf
Proper ordering to turn product: use your history and current trends
Stay in stock: Out of stock leads to lost sales, disappointed customers, and really plays havoc with your scan data
“We are promoting larger packages, brown mushrooms, exotics, and organics. Larger packages increase consumption and sales,” Mike conveys. “Retailers can take advantage of the mushroom growth by offering solutions to their customers such as recipes and product information. Also, the training of produce store teammates is critical because they are the people that have the most contact with the consumer.”
Monterey Mushrooms carries many varieties. The highest percentage of the company’s business is in agaricus bisporus mushrooms, which are white mushrooms, baby bellas, and portabellas. But, in addition, Monterey Mushrooms sells exotics such as oyster, shiitake, king trumpet, maitake, white beech, brown beech, and enoki.
Baby bellas are actually young portabella mushrooms, Mike tells me as I ask for a little more of a drill-down into the category.
“They look much like white button mushrooms. However, they're darker in color, have a stronger taste, are good raw or sautéed, and pair well with garlic or balsamic vinegar. They have become very popular,” he expresses. “So-called ‘wild mushrooms’ are popular on restaurant menus. Since most of us can’t spend our time hunting mushrooms in the woods—and while truly wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles, matsutakes, and porcinis are scarce and expensive—there are other richly flavored mushrooms in your local supermarket that can fill your flavorful needs. There are more than 2,000 varieties of edible mushrooms.”
Whoever thought the mushroom category didn’t offer variety obviously hasn’t had a 101 session with Mike.
“Now, several wild mushroom varieties are being cultivated, including oyster mushrooms and maitakes, enokis, and shiitakes, and a number of other mushrooms have been given proprietary trademarked names. These mushrooms are reasonably priced and I’ve played around with them quite a bit in recipes recently,” Mike shares. “It doesn’t matter to me that these ‘wild’ mushrooms were not really wild. They have the flavors and textures of wild mushrooms I have gathered in the Provençal countryside—and they don’t require the meticulous cleaning that real wild mushrooms require.”
For those consumers who don’t want to chop the category themselves, Monterey Mushrooms introduced a new product line called Let's Blend™, which is finely diced mushrooms ready-to-blend with ground meat. Let’s Blend comes in an 8 oz package and three pre-seasoned flavors: Classic, Mexican, and Italian. It’s an easy way for home cooks to achieve the same Blend concept that is appearing on restaurant menus nationwide.
"A traditional ground meat recipe prepared with 50 percent mushrooms and 50 percent meat can boost flavor—thanks to mushrooms’ umami—reduce fat, calorie, and sodium intake, and add nutrients."
“People want to eat better without giving up flavor and texture. Let’s Blend works well with ground beef, chicken, lamb, pork, or turkey. It makes meat juicier without adding fat or cholesterol,” he says. “Retailers will appreciate the added value Let’s Blend brings to the refrigerated mushroom set and that it has an extended shelf-life. The recyclable packaging has cooking instructions on pack, a visible best-by date, and a cutout window to see the product.”
In the foodservice arena, Mike tells me, the Blending initiative of mushrooms and proteins is catching fire—moving away from a trend and into a movement.
And the Blend is what I am talking about; it is a fantastic opportunity for chefs to make their burgers more plant-based and for patrons to discover how their favorite foods can be made healthier simply by substituting 25 to 50 percent mushrooms into the meat. If you are like me—mushrooms have become a new element in everything from tacos and meatloaf to lettuce wraps.
This Blend concept was born out of a partnership between the Mushroom Council, UC Davis researchers, and Culinary Institute of America chefs, who studied the flavor-enhancing properties of mushrooms and the appeal of blending mushrooms with ground meat.
“A 2014 study by the partners found that a traditional ground meat recipe prepared with 50 percent mushrooms and 50 percent meat can boost flavor—thanks to mushrooms’ umami—reduce fat, calorie, and sodium intake, and add nutrients. K-12 school districts, colleges and universities, and other non-commercial foodservice operators were the first adopters of the trend to blend,” Mike tells me.
I don’t know about you, but I am ready for a blended burger, or three. And, whether I am your guest or consumer, I am keeping a close eye on what new concepts you are cooking up with your mushroom destination.