Convenience and a variety of slices are two factors that have spurred increased consumer purchases of mushrooms.
Convenience and a variety of slices are two factors that have spurred increased consumer purchases of mushrooms.

Although mushroom production dipped slightly during 2012-13 compared with 2011-12, sales continued on an upward trend, topping $1.1 billion.

It also marked the third straight year that sales exceeded $1 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service’s annual mushroom report released Aug. 20.

During 2012-13, producers shipped about 895.5 million pounds, compared to 899.9 million pounds the previous season, according to the report.

But the average price per pound increased by 2 cents during 2012-13, netting producers an average of $1.24 cents per pound.

Altogether, the value of sales climbed to more than $1.1 billion compared to more than $1.09 billion the previous year and $1.02 billion in 2010-11.

Of that, agaricus — commercial button mushrooms — accounted for the lion’s share of $1.04 billion in 2012-13 compared to $1.03 billion the previous season.

But producers of brown mushrooms — such as portabella and crimini — saw an even larger percentage sales growth, rising to more than $221.8 million in 2012-13 compared to $212.6 million the previous season.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Mushroom Institute viewed the report as generally positive, said Laura Phelps, president.

“Demand is still really strong, and there was a slight decrease in production, but the price is strong,” she said. “The browns and the crimini and the portabella are even stronger than a year ago, so I think it’s all good. Sometimes you run into a few little production problems that drop things off a bit, but it’s not really any concern.”

Bart Minor, president of the San Jose-based Mushroom Council, said the NASS figures compare favorably to shipment figures his group collects.

“As the latest NASS report suggests, demand for mushrooms remains strong — up 14% over the last three years,” he said. “If you consider shipment figures reported to the Mushroom Council on first handler reports, they appear to be getting stronger.”

Phelps credited the versatility of mushrooms for one reason why consumers continue to be willing to pay more for the vegetable.

“I think it’s the convenience factor, too,” she said. “You can get them sliced and sliced in different ways now, like the steak-cut of the portabella.”

She also praised the council for its marketing programs that promote both consumer and food service use of mushrooms.

One recent effort, which carried a tag line “swap it or top it,” encourages substituting lower-calorie mushrooms for part of the meat in a dish.

“They keep coming up with new ways of blending mushrooms with meat and burgers and tacos,” Phelps said.

Consumers also have taken note of the industry’s nutritional messages and view mushrooms as guilt-free food, Phelps said.

“I think the Mushroom Council has been pushing that message and just building on the whole nutritional message for so many years. And those types of things take a while to get into the consumer,” she said.