MUSHROOMS, ESPECIALLY EXOTICS, SPROUT GAINS

DUBLIN, Calif. -- The earthy mushroom commands respect as a produce department leader, matching potatoes, bananas and lettuce in sales and profits per square foot, according to a recent survey of retailers by the Mushroom Council here.In the survey, retailers said mushrooms continued to support overall sales in the produce department and they expected the category to continue to grow for the next

DUBLIN, Calif. -- The earthy mushroom commands respect as a produce department leader, matching potatoes, bananas and lettuce in sales and profits per square foot, according to a recent survey of retailers by the Mushroom Council here.

In the survey, retailers said mushrooms continued to support overall sales in the produce department and they expected the category to continue to grow for the next several years.

Currently, whole and sliced white mushrooms are the big sellers, making up more than 90% of total U.S. sales for the entire category. But, it's the specialty mushrooms like portabellas that are growing at a much faster pace, according to the survey.

According to a spokesperson for the Mushroom Council, sales of specialty mushrooms grew 40% between 1997 and 1998 and the portabellas alone captured 80% of those sales. In comparison sales of white mushrooms grew 11%.

When asked the reasons for the growth, retailers said increased consumer awareness and promotion had been helpful. The selection of mushrooms also greatly affected consumers' perception of variety, quality and overall store image, they said.

The only drawback to the category, explained retailers, was shrink, which they are constantly looking to reduce.