Blended burger concept may spark retail sales, marketers say

Blended burger concept may spark retail sales, marketers say

The James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project has called attention to the practice of combining mushrooms with meat at foodservice, but it seems it could have a positive impact on mushroom sales at retail as well.

The fifth annual Blended Burger Project, which ended July 31, had chefs blending mushrooms with meat or other protein using a 25% to 75% ratio.

The public was able to sample the burgers and vote for their favorites online.

A panel of judges will review the top 25 vote recipients and select five who will each receive $5,000 and have the opportunity to serve their winning burgers at a Blended Burger Project celebration in October at the James Beard House in New York City.

Blended burgers, which are said to have less fat and sodium, more nutrition and all the flavor of regular burgers, now are available on restaurant menus in all 50 states, according to the Mushroom Council, based in Redwood Shores, Calif.

Since the project launched four summers ago, more than 1,200 restaurants have taken part in the competition.

But industry experts say the impact also may be felt at retail as consumers try blending mushrooms with meat at home.

According to a 2018 national survey, 1 in 3 people have heard of foods with ground or diced mushrooms blended into ground meat, said Mark Lang, a food marketing professor who conducted a recent Blend awareness study.
“When asked where they consume the Blend, more than 65% said at their home or a friend or family member’s home,” he said. “These would be from ingredients almost entirely purchased from supermarkets.”

Mushroom suppliers seem pleased with the idea.

“We love the program and the creativity we see from our foodservice customers as part of the program,” said Lindsey Roberts, marketing manager for Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms Inc. 

“We also love that home cooks are embracing the blended burger and mushroom burger concept.”

Blending ground beef with mushrooms “is just a good deal,” said Bill St. John, sales director for Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas.

It offers consumers a better price for their burgers, and it’s good for the environment, he said.

Some suppliers now offer chopped and seasoned mushrooms to make the process easier, he added.

To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., has been receiving inquiries about blended burgers from retail customers, said Kevin Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing.

Some have expressed interest in preparing blended ground beef back of house, while others prefer premade product.

“I definitely see it at retail,” Delaney said.

Kevin Donovan, sales manager for Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, Pa., said it’s too soon to tell how successful the idea will prove to be, but he’s optimistic.

“I think it will trickle up into retail and consumers as we get the word out,” he said. “That will increase sales of mushrooms.”

The blended concept started out as a school nutrition initiative, said Fletcher Street, director of marketing and sales for Ostrom Mushroom Farms, Olympia, Wash.

“It’s just making its way into the regular consumer recipe mix,” she said.

Besides burgers, blended meat can be used in tacos and other meat items, she said, and can include fish, venison, lamb and turkey as well as ground beef.

Ostrom Mushroom Farms might consider producing value-added products that could work with blended offerings when the company moves to a new location by early next year, she said.