When Michael Pan went to visit Malaysia to see family, he discovered new fare that would eventually inspire him to start a company. His family fed him with all the foods they loved. Pan’s cousin offered him a dish that he thought was pork, but was actually the family’s mushroom jerky. As vegetarians, the family found that other soy/tofu alternatives didn’t have the texture they wanted, so they started using mushrooms as a meat replacement.
At that point, Pan realized the family had created something that had to be shared with the world. But it wasn’t until many years later that he decided to go all-in on the mushroom jerky concept, working with them to reformulate the recipe and manufacture the jerky in Portland, Oregon.
Today, his company, Pan’s Mushroom Jerky, sells a few varieties of mushroom flavors online, with an option for subscriptions as well as a variety pack, and also sells in brick-and-mortar stores.
Texture and Flavors
The base of the product is shiitake mushrooms, which Pan says is one of the heartier, meatier varieties. As Pan told PYMNTS in an interview, it’s important to get the right texture – kind of “stringy and meaty” – and he said that using the shiitakes allows them to achieve that. However, he said their product is not one of those “old-school jerkies,” which consumers have to pull out of their teeth or chew for hours.
The original product flavor is its “most simple” and “umami” flavor, said Pan. It has more of a mushroom taste, but with the satisfying chew that many people seek in jerky. The zesty Thai is not hot, but has a “bit of a kick” to provide “a little zing.” The company receives a lot of positive feedback on the salt and pepper variety. They also offer an applewood BBQ flavor that is described as “sweet, smoky and [with] that delicious BBQ flavor.”
When it comes to the company’s target market, Pan noted that “it’s a great time to be in the plant-based space” – from both a consumer and brand perspective. A particularly exciting market is the growing population of people who are looking to reduce their meat intake. Pan also believes that plant-based foods are growing at five times the pace in retail sales versus regular groceries. “It’s a true reflection of where the population [as a] whole is going,” he said.
News came last week, for instance, that the meat-free Impossible Burger, once only available in restaurants, will be available in grocery stores. Shoppers will be able to buy the burger at 27 Gelson’s Markets locations. The retailer is reportedly restricting customers to 10 packages per visit, which the news outlet noted is “not entirely unexpected,” given the meat-free burger shortages.
Although Pan’s company is not the size of Impossible Foods (or its rival Beyond Meat), he said people are becoming more aware of meat-free options, and have helped to promote a plant-based lifestyle. As the company is bootstrapped, Pan pointed out that word of mouth is a huge part of their marketing efforts. Pan also tries to attend many community events as a way to demo and sample the product.
Pan’s Mushroom Jerky has a website where it sells its products. Pan said it offers a simple ordering and checkout process and offers every flavor as well as a variety pack online. Customers can sign up for a newsletter to get additional discounts, and can also subscribe for regular shipments to get more savings and convenience.
Beyond its eCommerce site, the company’s offerings can be found on Thrive Market and the online vegan grocery store Mylk Guys, among other platforms. The products are also available in some brick-and-mortar Whole Foods locations. The company also plans to offer additional types of healthy and sustainable products in the future.
With the help of eCommerce, snack companies such as Pan’s Mushroom Jerky can reach a market of those interested in pant-based foods, one package of mushroom jerky at a time.