Mushrooms are not slowing down: Natural Products Expo West 2024 Report


At this year’s Natural Products Expo West, mushrooms were all over the place, incorporated into beverages, ground coffee, and gummies, representative of the so-called “shroom boom.” Lion’s mane was particularly popular.

Lion's Mane mushroom. Photo ©

Lion's Mane mushroom. Photo ©

At this year’s Natural Products Expo West, mushrooms were all over the place, incorporated into beverages, ground coffee, and gummies, representative of the so-called “shroom boom.” Lion’s mane is among the most popular mushrooms on the market, and are sold in products promoting cognitive health benefits such as focus or mood. The science around fungi such as lion’s mane is limited but growing. Most recently, Sempera Organics (Morgan Hill, CA) announced the publication of a clinical trial that demonstrated how a daily dose (1.8 grams) of its proprietary lion’s mane blend (SO-DSX1) could positively impact cognition after one hour, based on a Stroop Task, as well as subjective stress over the course of 28 days. As with any nutraceutical ingredient, substantiation can go a long way.

“Brain health has clearly captivated the market and every other product formulator wants to talk about lion's mane,” Nirmal Nair, CEO and founder of Sempera Organics tells Nutritional Outlook. “Adaptogens are clearly on everyone's mind. And then there's a correlation between adaptogen and lion's mane. So I'm seeing that this market has just started and is aggressively happening this year. Anywhere between three months and six months, we should see products coming out that includes more and more lion's mane.”

Major brands like PepsiCo’s Rockstar Energy already carry SKUs that incorporate lion’s mane in their products, recognizing the value of the ingredient and the added benefits it offers. “Our mantra at R&D is that if we're not five years ahead of them, we're five years behind,” says PepsiCo’s vice president of North American Beverage R&D, Danielle Barbaro. “So, ingredients like the mushroom family and mushroom extracts like lion’s mane are increasingly popular, and they're trending. So, to put them in a new product line like Rockstar Focus really puts us in a great place to be at the forefront of innovation and creating a unique selling proposition for PepsiCo and Rockstar.”

“The thing is, established brands don't want to lose market share to a new brand,” explains Nair. “For them, it's easier to add it to their brand and retain their customer. They don't lose, it's easier for them. I expect that to happen so much. All of these functional ingredients will find their way into all the large brands, and everybody wants to have a clear mind; stress is only increasing, right? So it's an ever expanding infinite market that lion's mane and other mushrooms can help satisfy.”

As such, capacity needs to grow. M2 Ingredients (Carlsbad, CA), for example, recently announced a major facility expansion, doubling its production capacity. In addition, the company also launched new gummy products under its retail brand, Om, using its Lion’s Mane extract as well as its Master Blend of 10 fungi ingredients. M2 Ingredients took on the challenge of developing an organic gummy with a high inclusion (1 gram per serving) of mushroom extract.

“A lot of folks were discouraging us from launching organic gummies. We also wanted our product to be efficacious and have a large dose of mushrooms per piece, and again, we were discouraged along the way in trying to do such a high inclusion,” explains M2 Ingredients’ chief scientific officer, Julie Daoust. “So we spent about a year in R&D trying to develop this organic formula and one thing with mushrooms that's great and functional is they have beta glucans in their cell walls. Beta glucans have immune benefits but are also a gelling agent to some degree, so it interacts with the pectin and the buffers that need to be used in the gummies.”

The result, says Daoust, is a delicious product that makes mushrooms more approachable to the average consumer. That’s ultimately the goal, making a intimidating ingredient like mushroom appealing to a broad base of consumers. And it seems to be working.

Beyond lion’s mane, Nammex (Gibson, BC, Canada) recently announced significant progress in the yield of its cultivated turkey tail mushroom program, reaching 30,000 kilos in 2023, compared to 8,000 kilos in its inaugural year, 2021. The company is pushing for cultivated turkey tail, which is used extensively in nutraceuticals marketed for immune health, because of the lack of consistent quality from wildcrafted turkey tail.

“[Turkey tail] grows all over the northern hemisphere…[It’s] pretty common, so most of it is wild harvested and with any kind of wild crafting, the quality is always kind of varied,” explains Skye Chilton, CEO of Nammex. “So, specifically with turkey tail, we just found that over time that it was really hard to get consistent quality coming out and really what we want is that uniform profile for the most part.”

While cultivating mushrooms is not unusual, the abundance of turkey tail in the wild actually makes cultivation of that specific mushroom less attractive, Chilton tells Nutritional Outlook.

“Because [turkey tail is] so abundant and it's wild crafted, it's a pretty cheap commodity, at least in Asia. So, trying to convince people to actually farm it when there's a cheaper version, we have to pay them more money to actually cultivate it,” says Chilton. This is further complicated by the fact that turkey tail is not ideal in culinary applications, limiting its use to nutraceuticals and teas, says Bill Chioffi, chief operating officer for Nammex.

“It's definitely been a much bigger ask, which is why it's like taking so long to get this off the ground,” says Chilton. “Now that it's in production and we can see a path to scale and the farmers know that they're going to have somewhere to sell, it's just a lot easier…and now it's just a matter of scaling out.”

As the market for mushroom products continues to grow, the ultimate challenge will be supply meeting demand. This is particularly true when it comes to meat alternatives, where mushrooms are also seeing a lot of traction. Being able to scale production to make an affordable product is no easy task. This is something Sempera Organics is actively working on with its Mamu brand of meat alternatives, recently signing an MoU with Good Machine to find a way to more sustainably scale product. So, expect continued growth and innovation in this space.

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