According to Transparency Market Research, the global mushroom market is projected to grow 8.2% from $34.1 billion in 2015 to a $69.3 billion by the end of 2024 – a eye-catching rate that the co-founder of Om Organic Mushroom Nutrition says has brands across categories scrambling to incorporate the ingredient into their products in order to make related health claims.
“The mushroom channel is really growing tremendously and we are seeing that not only in our retail product side, but we also have a B2B side of our business and the number of brands right now have reached out to us to include mushrooms in their own branded products has really risen,” Sandra Carter, co-founder of Om Mushrooms, told FoodNavigator-USA.
“In fact,” she added, “at Expo West it was sort of standing room only in our booth for the whole show. Right from beginning of Fresh Ideas through to Sunday.”
Carter attributes the growing interest in mushrooms to an increase in “compelling research out there regarding individual species,” such as Lion’s Mane, which some studies “from credible sources” show is related to the synthesis of nerve growth.
“That really caught a lot of attention on social media and we have seen our sales double way over double digits this year for Lion’s Mane both at brick and mortar and through our online channel as well,” she said.
The addition of mushrooms to more familiar formats beyond capsules that consumers are more willing to eat and drink is compounding the ingredients’ traction, Carter said.
“Getting people to take capsules every day is certainly a challenge, but when you provide someone with a product like our Energy [powdered mushroom] that you can put in your water bottle from a little sachet so you can go to the gym or keep in your purse … that makes a daily routine easier,” she explained.
She noted all of Om’s retail line focuses on giving consumers a way to include easily mushrooms in their everyday routine, which is how the ingredients work best and in turn will inspire consumers to “be wowed by the effects of the mushroom and tell all their friends.”
Beyond increased convenience, the category is growing because consumers increasingly are looking to food as their medicine, Carter said.
“The public now recognizes that Mother nature is really smart and that whole, natural foods are in all likelihood much better than synthetic formulated products,” so they are looking for products made with natural ingredients – like mushrooms – rather that “highly concentrated” supplements their bodies can’t absorb as easily, she said.
Despite the exponential growth of mushrooms, the category faces significant challenges that are holding it back from reaching its full potential, said Carter.
The most substantial challenge is a lack of consumer awareness of mushrooms, including the wide variety of species and the different benefits they offer, Carter said.
“We are not just a one-trick pony. The different types of mushrooms we grow have many different applications,” Carter explained. “For example, one little known benefit with a lot of potential is beauty. Mushrooms naturally contain biotin and the cordyceps mushroom helps with circulation so it can help with the uptake of nutrients in the hair follicles and nail beds.”
She added that some mushrooms boost natural endurance or oxygenation, making them ideal for sports nutrition, while others offer “greater longevity,” which might appeal to those seeking healthy aging options.
To spread the word out about the full potential of mushrooms, Om is working with partners and influencers to share credible information, according to the company’s recently hired vice president of communications. She added that the company also is looking for “a good champion of our message who is true to their audience.”
Building on this, the company also is attending several specialized trade shows, including a fitness certification conference that 14,000 personal trainers attended who can help advance the company’s education goals, Carter said.
Another challenge that threatens the growth of mushrooms more broadly is a short shelf life and susceptibility to cold storage problems, Carter said.
“One of the great benefits we have is we have actually a three year shelf life because we dehydrate our mushrooms down to 6% and mill them into a powder. So, they don’t need to be refrigerated. Rather, we just recommend that they are not kept in an overly moist environment because they will absorb moisture if they container is left open. But otherwise, they are stable at normal room temperature, which gives both the customers and retailers flexibility in storing and displaying our products in a regular shelf area,” she said.
A final challenge holding mushrooms back is the off flavor some produce, Carter said.
“No matter how good something is for you, if your consumer has to plug their nose and close their eyes and belt something down, they are probably not going to be excited about taking it every day,” Carter said.
With that in mind, she said, “our team is focused on developing new products that not only are healthy and convenient, but also have a good, organic, natural flavor that consumers will like so they take that as opposed to a beverage, for instance, that is not good for them.”
Opportunities for growth: flavor, clean label and superfood sets
If flavor is a challenge for mushrooms, it also is an opportunity for future growth when handled correctly, Carter said.
“Mushrooms can be very, very chameleon-like so they blend very, very well into a lot of products that might be unexpected, such as salad dressing,” Carter said, noting that mushrooms will act as a thickening agent to create a “creamy dressing,” which consumers love but which often do not meet emerging clean label standards.
In addition, the umami flavor of mushrooms can help manufacturers remove some unwanted ingredients from their products, such as MSG or other artificial flavors, Carter said.
Because mushrooms blend so easily into products, Carter said she is seeing interest from brand manufacturers across categories, including in bars, vegan burgers, creamers and beverages such as Suja’s kombucha.
Despite the ingredient’s diversity, Carter says she sees the most traction for mushrooms currently in the “superfood set” at retail.
“We see the highest level of sales in the superfood category,” when Om’s powdered mushroom products are alongside hemp, protein powder and chia, Carter said. She explained this is likely because consumers blend all the ingredients into their daily smooothies or are looking for functional ingredients that can easily be blended with water.
“Our products also sell well in the immune and herb set, but that can be seasonal as consumers are more likely to shop that set when they are feeling more exposed to the cold or the flue during the winter months,” she added.
US-grown will become more important
Looking forward as mushrooms continue to gain popularity and more competitors enter the market, Carter says the fact that Om’s products are grown in the US will become increasingly important and help keep it apart from the pack.
“Mushrooms are bio-accumulators which means they naturally accumulate whatever they are growing on – the air, the water, everything will affect the final products. So, we go to great lengths to ensure we have a clean and healthy product, which is a big benefit to consumers because there are not many growers in the United States,” and outside of the US there could be a higher risk of contamination, she explained.