Mushroom magic drives sales among the health-conscious

According to the latest Kantar data, there has been a healthy growth in mushroom sales, and it’s not just the flavour that is helping to bolster the popularity of fungi

Sitting alongside £249 fitness clothing and luxury gyms in Vogue magazine’s top health tips for summer is the humble mushroom. This apparently simple food is packed with vitamins and protein, making it a hit with nutritionists, chefs and health-conscious consumers.

While the standard white mushroom remains popular, recent Kantar Worldpanel figures showed a 2.1% growth in mushroom sales, of which closed or button mushrooms have a 64.2% share of shopper spend; illustrating that there is a growing interest in other varieties, especially in relation to their health benefits.

Despite their appearance beside Vogue’s pricier health suggestions, the recently crowned ‘medicinal’ mushrooms are cheaper than the actual magazine, with 150g of Shiitake mushrooms in Waitrose weighing in at just £2.

And it’s not just stores such as Waitrose or Whole Foods Market that are selling a wide variety of fungi, Tesco stocks wild as well as cultivated mushrooms, including selections from Asia and Europe.

Although still accounting for a small percentage of the multiple retail market, spend on fresh exotic mushrooms has increased in the last five years from 0.4% to 0.6%.

That percentage is higher outside the volume driven supermarket sector though. Mario Prati, owner of the Tartufaia stall at Borough Market, which specialises in truffles and mushrooms, says he has seen demand for varieties such as Morels and Shiitake grow over the last three years.

“We’re definitely seeing more people ask about mushrooms; from what they taste like and what to do with them, to how healthy they are,” explains Prati.

“Shiitake are full of Vitamin E, and if you dry them out in the sun you can keep them in the cupboard and add them [to meals] when needed.”

Neighbouring stall Ted’s Veg sells mushroom varieties that are not available at Tartufaia, such as the Portabello flat. Stall manager Shuk Ng says customers are certainly more aware of the different varieties available thanks to the increased use by chefs and on cookery shows.

“You see more recipes in magazines and on television programmes using different types of mushrooms, and that’s filtering through to customers who want to try those dishes at home,” she adds.

Despite the raised awareness among some shoppers, a survey of 1,000 adults by the organisation The Mushroom Bureau last year found that a third could not identify the Chestnut, and a third did not recognise the Portabello.

The positive news is that 60% were aware of the health benefits of mushrooms. This increased awareness has had an impact on not just fresh, but also dried and powdered mushroom sales.

Companies such as Mushroom Matrix, which sells powdered mushrooms to add as a supplement, saw business increase by 200% last year, and CEO Sandra Carter is touting mushrooms as the ‘new kale’.

There have been numerous studies showing mushrooms’ range of disease-preventing properties, and their ability to help strengthen the immune system. Now producers are engineering mushrooms to boost their already bountiful benefits.

Marks and Spencer (M&S) worked with the Irish producer Monaghan Mushrooms to create Vitamin D packed mushrooms that went on sale last year across the chain’s food halls.

“During the 1990s university researchers in Finland discovered that mushrooms contained levels of Vitamin D, which varied by the amount of light the mushrooms had been exposed to,” explains an M&S spokesman.

“This knowledge started our journey in turning the humble mushroom into a product that can improve the life of millions of people. M&S Active Health Vitamin D Mushrooms have nutrients; namely Vitamins D, B and potassium. They’re a great choice for all the family and they particularly benefit older people, nursing mothers and convalescents who have a higher requirement for these vitamins and minerals.

“We grow our mushrooms inside houses where they are not exposed to sunlight [as] mushrooms don’t need sunlight to grow. After the mushrooms are picked, we briefly lay them under a high wattage light. The bulb acts like the sun and contains wavelengths of light including UV, which produces Vitamin D inside the mushroom. Each mushroom has the exact same amount of light which means each mushroom’s Vitamin D level is the equivalent to 100% of the recommended daily intake for humans.”

Chef and nutritionist Christine Bailey has long been a mushroom advocate. However, she says that while all mushrooms have various health benefits, including closed/button mushrooms, she encourages clients to buy organic.

“Mushrooms are very porous, so it’s better to buy organic. Even the regular white, button mushrooms can be an important part of a healthy diet. And they don’t need to be fresh – frozen sliced mushrooms or even dried ones are great to add,” she says.

“Mushrooms are particularly important for vegetarians and vegans for their protein content, and they are also great for a low carbohydrate diet, and for weight management.”

Darren Huxtable, commercial manager for G’s Fresh’s vegetable and mushroom division, says the company has seen strong sales in dried mushrooms.

“Our volumes in Tesco have increased by around 65% over the last year. In other retailers we are seeing more SKUs becoming available in-store, but mainly in the grocery section, not in the fresh produce area,” he adds.

“The main varieties of dried mushrooms are Porcini, Shiitake, Oyster, Chanterelle, and mixed. It’s always best to look for Porcini, Chanterelle or mixed wild types as these are generally true outdoor-grown wild mushrooms, rather than indoor-grown cultivated mushrooms which are then dried.  

“Dried mushrooms are a great accompaniment to fresh mushrooms, and can easily be used together to add more depth of flavour to dishes. One advantage of dried mushrooms is that a small amount goes a long way, so they are great value too.”

This easy-going, simple food that is so often associated with basic meals is finally getting its moment in the spotlight, proving that there really is magic in mushrooms.



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