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For a long time, mushrooms have been celebrated as a source of powerful nutrients, particularly those of public health interest such as vitamin D and potassium, The Mushroom Council in San Jose, CA, reported. And they can also help people meet the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which has been issued by the Department of Health and Human Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal of the guidelines is to reduce sodium and increase vegetable consumption.

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Retailers are focusing on the wide variety of highly demanded mushrooms. (Courtesy of The Mushroom Council)

The claims are clearly working for the benefit of the mushroom industry. Fresh mushrooms continue to grow in sales and weight, with the highest average retail sales in the top 25 produce categories. From June 2010 to June 2011, mushroom sales were up by 1.8 percent by weight and 2.9 percent by dollar. Fresh mushrooms are seeing stable pound growth increases in six U.S. regions.

The Council also continues to see strong growth with brown sliced mushrooms, which are up nearly 9 percent across most regions in June 2011.

Mushrooms are gaining strong headway in the foodservice category, especially in colleges and universities. In 2011, the council focused on this segment, directly reaching both campus chefs and students. Beginning with a year-long advertising campaign in trade magazines, the Council is highlighting the versatility of mushrooms in ethnic and vegetarian dishes, which are increasingly popular cuisines on campuses. It is working on an on-campus event competition among the Southeastern Conference, the Big 12, a college athletic conference of 10 Central U.S. schools, and PAC-12, the college athletic conference that operates in Western United States.

Mushroom consumption is clearly up in mainstream restaurant chains as well. The Council said that it has secured limited-time-only menu promotions with both Uno Chicago Grill and Johnny Rocket’s for summer 2011.

Uno Chicago Grill, a multi-regional chain with concentration in the eastern United States, added Artisan Wild Mushroom Pizza with Shiitake, Portabella and white mushrooms, and the Stuffed Portabella Appetizer, stuffed with goat cheese and Portabella, white and Shiitake mushrooms.

Johnny Rocket’s has created a new Route 55 Chicken Sandwich for its 25th anniversary “All-American Favorites” summer promotion. The sandwich is grilled chicken breast with white button mushrooms grilled in special seasoning.

In 2010, The Mushroom Council also partnered with Sodexo, a leading supplier of catering and hospitality services, for a limited-time-offer promotion that ran in participating campus dining, employee feeding and healthcare managed facilities. Sodexo tracked 5.4 million servings in the promotion.

Black Angus, a regional West Coast chain that uses fresh mushrooms with its steaks, burgers, pizzas and salads, developed Chipotle Crispy Baby Portabella Mushrooms, a Latin-themed, bar-type product that ran from late 2010 through February 2011. Black Angus increased its fresh mushroom usage by 60 percent during the period.

In May 2011, the Council launched a search engine marketing campaign on Google, resulting in a 32 percent increase in traffic directed to mushroominfo.com. The campaign’s consumer statistics show that the top-performing key words among consumers included “mushroom recipes” and “vitamin D.” This, the Council states, is an example of the key consumer insights that retailers can transfer from digital space to their grocery aisles. With a growing number of consumers seeking out recipes that incorporate mushrooms, retailers can build promotions and displays that highlight the in-demand produce staple.

In addition, development of The Mushroom Council’s Twitter profile and Facebook fan page has resulted in significant consumer interaction. Compared to May 2010, its Twitter handle has seen a 51 percent increase in followers, while its Facebook fan base has grown by 311 percent. Both profiles lead consumers to mushroominfo.com, where the council found that consumers spend most of their time searching for recipes that incorporate mushrooms into their meals.

An understanding of consumer habits in the digital space has led the Council to develop additional social media collateral to maintain and build upon consumer demand. In light of the growing number of people accessing its web site for recipes that use fresh mushrooms and for information about vitamin D, the council has developed social media relationships with registered dietitians and foodie bloggers via Twitter and The Mushroom Council’s blog.