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Canada's grocers embrace the magic of mushrooms with new specialty varietiesWednesday, July 30, 2014 > 10:35:08
(Globe & Mail)
The lowly mushroom is emerging as a secret weapon for profit-hungry grocers.
Supermarkets are trying to lure shoppers with pricier exotic varieties ranging from king oysters to enokis and cinnamon caps. The gradual shift to specialty mushrooms from traditional white-button types is driven by retailers’ bid to cash in on a growing number of new Canadians who seek out familiar products and foodies looking for something different.
Local mushroom producers are responding with higher end, laboratory-grown mushrooms and wild varieties or conventional compost-based ones cultivated in dark spaces. They’re touting them as highly nutritional, calorie friendly and a vegetarian’s dream. Grocers are stocking as many as 30 or more different kinds of mushrooms in their produce sections, banking on them to help draw shoppers from the less lucrative packaged goods aisles.
“The once humble mushroom is finally having its day,” said Dan Branson, senior director of Loblaw Cos. Ltd.’s private-label lines and a produce specialist.
As grocers try to pump up fresh food sales, they’re counting on mushrooms to create a “halo effect” of pulling shoppers into the produce section and at the same time pick up other ingredients for their recipes. It’s part of retailers’ broader push to rev up fresh produce and meat sales as they struggle with declining prices in other aisles in a brutally crowded market.
The “halo effect” is part of retailers’ broader push to rev up fresh produce and meat sales as they struggle with declining prices in other aisles in a brutally crowded market.
Specialty mushrooms are driving higher sales in the category, with prices that can be up to 10 to 30 times steeper than those of basic white button varieties. Imported truffles even can go for as much as $1,500 a pound. And while overall mushroom sales rose 2 per cent to $266.5-million in the year to March 8, sales of oyster mushrooms jumped 26 per cent to $2.7-million and sales of shiitake varieties climbed 14 per cent to $3.4-million, according to market researcher Nielsen.
“Specialty is where the growth is,” said Carman Allison, vice-president of consumer insights at Nielsen.
Ben (Yun Joon) Park knows all about the evolution of specialty mushrooms. His Enviro Mushroom Farm in Burlington, Ont., looks more like a blend of a sci-fi laboratory and high-tech manufacturer than a greenhouse. Employees walk about the building in white lab coats, take an air shower before entering the production rooms and spray their feet and hands with alcohol.
Mr. Park grows his organic mushrooms in plastic bottles from a mixture of sawdust, rice bran, wheat bran, soy bean meal and liquid mushroom “spawn,” or seed. “It looks like the Samsung semi-conductor manufacturing factory,” he said. His sales have grown to $8-million a year from less than $500,000 in 2001. One of his customers is Loblaw, which recently introduced private-label President’s Choice king oyster and other mushrooms, shipped from his labs. Other retailers he supplies include Sobeys Inc., Wal-Mart Canada Corp. and Longo’s.
“It’s come a long way from your basic white button mushroom,” said Mimmo Franzone, produce director at Longo Brothers Fruit Markets Inc.