August, 2016

Research Perspective and Comments & Analysis

Driving Fresh Mushroom Category Growth

By Bart Minor, President, Mushroom Council

According to a recent purchase-behavior study, “Fresh Mushrooms Fast Facts — A Quick Guide to Shopper Purchase Behaviors” — conducted by the Mushroom Council based on data from the National Consumer Panel (NCP), an IRI and Nielsen operational joint venture — mushroom consumers are found to be receptive to both new varieties of mushrooms and new ways to incorporate mushrooms into their meals. Fresh mushroom purchasers average six mushroom buying trips per year for a total annual spend of $15.78 on fresh mushrooms. Over half of U.S. households purchased fresh mushrooms in 2015.

The Mushroom Council actively developed initiatives to increase mushroom consumption ranging from school nutrition to utilizing registered dietitians at retail. The Council is driving fresh mushroom category growth and encouraging consumers to use fresh mushrooms.



The Blend

Consumers, chefs, foodservice operators and retailers are using The Blend to increase produce consumption and enhance and extend meat. The Blend is the culinary technique of blending fresh, chopped mushrooms with ground meat. Finely chopped mushrooms blend seamlessly with ground meat to make meals more delicious, nutritious and sustainable. The diced mushrooms are mixed with proteins such as beef, turkey, lamb or pork to make hamburgers, meatloaf, meatballs, tacos and more into healthier versions of classic meals.

Consumers are actively looking for ways to eat better without giving up the flavor and the foods they enjoy. Approximately 100 million transitional meat consumers (those looking to reduce red meat consumption) are looking for an improved alternative to their diet. This consumer group is comprised largely of Millennials and Baby Boomers. Eating better for this group means making an effort to seek nutritious alternatives to their existing high caloric and high fat diets.


Supermarket Registered Dietitians

Supermarket Registered Dietitians activate their passion for improving public health by helping shoppers make healthier choices at retail. They have been instrumental in educating the foodservice, deli and meat departments at retail to carry Blend products for their customers. Many retailers showcase the Blend through cooking demonstrations, healthy meal plan displays and recipe cards. Consumers find the Blend technique incredibly easy to make and love that they are improving the nutritional value and flavor of their family’s favorite recipes. Retailers are finding a positive sales result in both the mushroom and meat categories.


School Nutrition

Thanks to their hearty texture and likeness to meat in terms of taste and texture, mushrooms are used to makeover school meals. To meet National School Lunch Program guidelines, foodservice directors use The Blend to appeal to kids while still meeting rigorous nutrition requirements. Many school districts have introduced mushrooms into their meal cycle with great success. The mushrooms in school nutrition program encourages students to try mushrooms, understand the health benefits, and become a mushroom lover, which helps create mushroom shoppers for life.



Household dollar sales of fresh mushrooms reached over $1 billion in sales in 2015. Research suggests that the average dollars spent on mushrooms per shopping occasion has increased steadily to $2.69. This indicates shoppers are spending more during their shopping trip.

If mushroom buyers spend $1 more per year on mushrooms, it would translate to a $66 million increase in annual fresh mushroom sales. A 1 percent increase in household penetration represents an annual sales opportunity of over $19 million.

Increasing household usage is a prime growth opportunity for fresh mushrooms. Research indicates that the shopping basket value increases 82 percent to $75.62 when mushrooms are included in the basket. Over the last four years, the value of the basket with mushrooms has grown faster than without, up 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

By reaching consumers with new mushroom usage suggestions the industry is increasing growth potential for fresh mushroom sales. Not only can consumers become excited about trying The Blend, retailers can become excited to increase fresh mushroom category growth.

Data Source: IRI Consumer NetworkTM 2015 / Fresh Mushroom Fast Facts – A Quick Guide to Shopper Purchase Behaviors

The Mushroom Council is composed of fresh market producers or importers who average more than 500,000 pounds of mushrooms produced or imported annually. The mushroom program is authorized by the Mushroom Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act of 1990 and is administered by the Mushroom Council under the supervision of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Research and promotion programs help to expand, maintain and develop markets for individual agricultural commodities in the United States and abroad. These industry self-help programs are requested and funded by the industry groups that they serve.



Increase Consumption One Item At A Time

The globe is awash with various promotional programs designed to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. In the United States, 5 A Day The Color Way, Fruits & Veggies More Matters, Eat Brighter!, and more have all served in this role.

It is fair to say that the premise, spoken or unspoken, behind these kinds of promotional programs is some combination of education and affiliation with beloved characters will lead to increased produce consumption.

Unfortunately, the evidence for any rise in produce consumption is thin. Despite decades of efforts, we can’t point to an increase in consumption that has been prompted by this approach.

Now, the Mushroom Council offers the industry a different approach. Is it possible that money invested in product development could be more effective in boosting consumption than generic promotional efforts? It is a big change in approach.

The traditional approach “blames” the consumer; it assumes they need to be educated or inspired. With this new approach, the Mushroom Council suggests people do things for rational reasons, and current consumption patterns reflect the known utility of our products.

If our industry wants to change consumption patterns, a good way to do so is to change the known utility of our products.

In pursuit of this goal, the Mushroom Council worked hard with The Culinary Institute of America, among other organizations, to create, perfect and identify uses for “The Blend.” In other words, rather than just urging people to consume more mushrooms, the focus shifts to creating usage opportunities that did not exist before.

The idea is to take mushrooms, chop them up, and mix them with ground meat to create burgers, meatballs, meatloaf, etc. — which are essentially mushroom-meats. The advantages are obvious: The blended products are lower in calories, less expensive, place less strain on the environment, etc. In addition, the blended product (depending on the ratios used) can maintain or even enhance the flavor and mouthfeel of the entrée.

This author has personally sampled the blended product and can attest that it is delicious. Indeed, the mushroom seems to make most ground meat dishes more juicy than straight ground meat. We would say that, in many applications, we find the mushroom-blended product to taste
superior to the meat alone.

We noted great enthusiasm for the product in the school foodservice market. In primary and secondary schools, price seems to be a strong driver, as budgets are so thin.

In college and university foodservice, environmental concerns seem to drive a general push toward more plant-based foods, and thus, more interest in blends.

Of course, even if “The Blend” is a fantastic product, marketing still poses big problems. What is “The Blend”? It is neither meat, nor a mushroom. Can we change consumer perceptions to accept such a hybrid? We all know what a hamburger is or a veggie burger. What do you call, and how do you market, a hybrid?

New products can create utility. Think of pomegranate arils and how easy it is to add them to fruit cups and salads when consumers or restaurants don’t have to cut up pomegranates.

New techniques create sales. Think of the enormous volume of protein-inclusive salads, such as Ready Pac’s Bistro Bowls, that are now sold in produce. Think of demand built by new varieties of grapes and berries or any of a dozen apples that superseded Red Delicious in growth.

What all these products share, and what the Mushroom Council pioneered, is the idea that each organization in the industry should accept individual responsibility for boosting consumption.

We should look deep at our product portfolio, and instead of saying consumers are at fault for not being sufficiently appreciative of our products, we should commit resources to product development to make our products more delicious, more useful, and more convenient.

Then, the products must be marketed, and using paths such as school foodservice and retail dieticians can only help. But we need to have innovative, game-changing items to market. “The Blend” is an example for the entire industry. Kudos go to Bart Minor, president and chief executive at the Mushroom Council, and to the entire mushroom industry for having the vision to support the initiative.