Making space for ‘shrooms — Mushrooms demand more room at retail

Published Tuesday, January 7, 2020
by Ashley Nickle, Produce Retailer

Retailers have been giving more room to mushrooms in recent years as the plant-based trend drives interest in the produce department’s favorite fungus.

“Real estate within the produce department comes at a premium, but mushrooms command no less than 20 linear feet in most of our stores, sometimes even more,” said Michael Schutt, produce merchant for West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley’s. “Most merchandising cues are customer- or trend-driven, and there are plenty of trends currently that put mushrooms on center stage. The category has had steady growth, but the last couple years we’ve seen the category increase near double-digit.”

Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Friendly Markets, said his stores base space allocation on current sales trends and sales potential.

“Mushrooms have shown growth over the past few years, and so as a result we have added linear footage to accommodate,” Cady said.

Caitlin Tierney, senior director of produce and floral for Commerce, Calif.-based 99 Cents Only Stores, gave a similar report.

“I decide how much mushroom space to allot based on the percentage of contribution to our total refrigerated sales and store size,” Tierney said. “The saturation of mushrooms has grown over the last few years, so space has, too. One large growth for the category for us was bringing in specialty mushrooms that cater to specific nationalities and cooking trends, such as enoki, oyster, beach and seafood mushrooms.”

Rob Ybarra, director of produce for Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Markets, also commented on the growth of space for ‘shrooms.

“It's fair to say mushroom allocation has nearly doubled in the last few years,” Ybarra said. “The fact that vitamin D is prevalent in mushrooms has really helped, especially with the millennial group.”

Louis Scagnelli, director of produce and floral for Alpha 1 Marketing, an affiliate of White Plains, N.Y. -based Krasdale Foods, noted that mushrooms get some preference when it comes to space because they are a vegetable category staple. That status continues to grow.

“Linear footage allocated to mushroom displays has increased over the past few years,” Scagnelli said. “We are learning that stores which were not carrying a wide variety of mushrooms in the past have been expanding space and are now selling a larger variety of mushrooms that they once thought they would not sell.

“Mushrooms are also a top seller for vegan diets,” Scagnelli added.

Dave Rhodes, director of produce and floral operations at Indianapolis-based Fresh Encounter, also mentioned the plant-based appeal of mushrooms.

“I think you’ll see the mushroom category continue to grow,” Rhodes said. “The plant-based program is actually, I think, going to help revitalize the mushroom category a little bit.”

Down the road, mushrooms could be merchandised next to whole sections of plant-based items from different areas of the store, Rhodes suggested.

Jesse Himango, assistant director of produce  for Downers Grove, Ill.-based Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets, said his stores currently place mushrooms near items that are natural accompaniments — next to the packaged salad category and adjacent to other cooking vegetables like bell peppers, onions and eggplant.

“With our defined merchandising location, we allocate space based on unit movement performance,” Himango said. “Top performers get enough real estate to support movement and future growth. We also devote key eye-level merchandising space to trending varieties that can help us upsell customers. (For example,) we placed packaged baby bella mushrooms at the prime eye-level display location and have reaped growth of 11.4%.”

“Our space allocation is also defined by following past shrink trends that have pointed to over-merchandising certain items,” Himango said. “Shrink reporting tools help dictate proper space, along with where to expand while contracting certain items. Last but not least, our space allocation is defined by what key SKUs are used to promote and drive customer traffic to the category. While trying to gain sales in varieties like baby bellas, we have found that using larger amounts of lower-level space for staples like packaged whole white and sliced white mushrooms keeps customers coming back for more.”

A particular display tool has been helpful as well, Himango noted.

“Our space allocation decisions have also been influenced greatly by the use of self-facing mechanisms on each shelf,” Himango said. “Using self-facing mushroom mechanisms allows your entire display to look full all of the time with only a minimal amount of product on the shelf at one time. Great presentation and no way to over-fill each of the mushroom varieties has been a win-win for Fresh Thyme Farmers Market.”

Holidays are among the peak times for mushrooms across the country, and in the South they enjoy additional popularity in another period.

“For our region, boiling season is off the charts for whole mushrooms,” Ybarra said. “Customers place (them) in mesh bags or loose in the pot and they boil them in the crawfish and seasoning. Our sales quadruple during Lenten season.

“We literally place big displays of whole mushrooms and customers pick up not only one pack but numerous depending on the size of the boil,” Ybarra said. “It's literally a sight to see – and oh boy do they taste good.”

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