Mushrooms have been on trend for quite some time in the natural food space thanks to their medicinal image, giving rise to increased commercial production. The global mushroom market is expected to exceed $69.4bn by 2024, doubling in size compared to 2015 when it was valued at $34.1bn.
While many food and beverage brands utilizing mushrooms are touting their alleged adaptogenic qualities, the aim of Mudlrk is to bring another option to the better-for-you snacking space playing on familiar chip flavors.
Exhibiting at the Smart Food Expo this week and the Sweets & Snacks Expo last month (where it made its debut) Mudlrk demoed its four varieties of shiitake mushroom chips: original, honey onion mustard, black pepper, and buffalo.
Through its presence at various food tradeshows, founder Trace Ostergren shared that the interest has spanned from c-store, mom & pop shops, and regional chains to restaurant chains and non-grocery retailers.
“Right now we’re planning to basically satisfy some initial orders by end of July,” he said.
As a brand under newly-formed Indiana snack food company flyGREEN Snacks, Ostergren originally started with a narrower market focus: supplying airlines with ‘whole food’ snacks in eco-conscious packaging to serve as an alternative to pedestrian peanuts and pretzels.
The first product under flyGREEN Snacks was a dried coconut banana chip snack packaged in a 14 gram bag designed for airlines. Ostergren was in talks with Hawaiian Airlines, who requested a larger, retail size bag to sell during flights.
“Since they had me develop a retail item, I also figured that I should attempt to sell this in retail stores, not just retail on the plane,” Ostergren told FoodNavigator-USA.
“The brand and company is focused on whole food snacks with eco-conscious packaging and remarkable, vivid [packaging] design.”
Mudlrk mushroom chips are novel in that they preserve the whole mushroom, instead of slicing and dicing it like many other veggie chips on the market.
Honing packaging and processing methods
The biggest hurdle to developing a retail-ready product was the packaging, according to Ostergren, who wanted to engineer something environmentally friendly made with certified compostable materials that also preserved the crispy texture of the chips inside.
Ostergren worked with various suppliers that manufactured sealant and adhesive layers.
“I had to identify all those individual manufacturers of individual components then find a laminator to put those together, then create the material for it,” he said.
The end packaging was a multi-layer material with a brown paper outside featuring custom artwork.
“When you touch the package it feels earth friendly,” Ostergren added.
“I already had the whole infrastructure and logistics set up to then easily add another product assuming I would use the same process as the banana coconut chips.”
Moving into mushrooms
However, when Ostergren hit on the idea of mushroom chips, a food he encountered a number of times through his travels in France and then in Thailand, he realized the freeze-dried process he had used for the banana coconut chips wouldn’t cut it and switched his processing methods to vacuum frying.
Mudlrk sources its shiitake mushrooms from a few different regions in China and vacuum fries them in palm oil.
“Vacuum frying is conducted inside of a closed environment where the oxygen level is lowered and therefore the boiling point for the oil is lowered, and therefore your frying time can be lessened – Ultimately it gives you the crunch of the chip,” Ostergren continued.