The Sonic Signature Slinger features a ground beef and ground mushroom blend.
Two matters have captured the American consumer’s attention in recent years, and consequently the attention of the food-processing industry. An awareness of changes in the earth’s environment and the future protection of it along with an ongoing quest for health and wellness remain at the top of the list of priorities when consumers choose food products. What were once trends have become everyday concerns of the typical shopper.

A product consisting of a mix of ground beef and ground mushrooms has grown, evolved and now fills a space that adequately addresses the environment and health and wellness at the same time. Not only that, the mushroom and beef mixture also offers suppliers and customers a further health benefit and label claim without the typical extra cost that comes with it. The mushroom and beef blend has recently surfaced, and become a regular product offering in foodservice.


About two years ago, Wichita, Kansas-based Cargill Protein and foodservice and facilities management company Sodexo began to work together on a premium ground beef product from cattle that had never been given antibiotics or hormones. The partnership came in an attempt by the two companies to provide customers and consumers with a product they wanted and asked for. Sodexo surveyed adult workers and college aged respondents regarding attributes they would most prefer in a ground beef product.

“Antibiotic and hormone use were clearly, in both groups, way at the top in attributes that people are looking for,” says Rob Morasco, senior director for culinary development, Sodexo, North America. “So, we said OK, that’s an important thing. How are we going to address that in our spaces and go forward?”

Morasco and his team develop recipes, menus, concepts and manage projects for Sodexo’s campus, school, corporate dining, health care, government and senior segments.

The main impediment to putting a ground beef product without hormones and antibiotics into the market, for both Cargill and Sodexo, was cost. Neither company wanted a price increase to their end customers. With drastic price fluctuations in the cost of conventional ground beef versus a product with no antibiotics or hormones, they needed to find another solution.

“Customers liked the concept, but found the cost prohibitive, so we needed to innovate,” says Steve Zutell, corporate account leader at Cargill. “At about the same time, we had a meeting with the Mushroom Council to determine possibilities for protein collaboration.”

Cargill brought the concept of a mushroom and ground beef mix, with the ground beef portion of the mix being antibiotic and hormone free, to Sodexo.

“Low and behold, a few different samples and approaches with different blends of mushrooms, different levels of mushrooms versus ground beef, and we landed on a patty initially, that we piloted last year,” Morasco says.

“We’re listening to our customers and collaborating deeply with them to develop solutions focused on nutrition, flavor, affordability, sustainability and other important factors that drive consumer choice,” Zutell says. “The collaborative process brought together consumer insight and trend analysis teams that worked to identify the key components of acceptability.”

Zutell worked with Sodexo throughout the process to make sure the collaborative effort met Sodexo’s needs. He notes the added benefits produced by the decision to mix ground mushrooms with the hormone and antibiotic free ground beef.

“The sustainability attributes mushrooms offer, such as carbon footprint reduction, supplementing animal protein with plant protein, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant attributes, resulted in greater commercial appeal,” he says. “Mushrooms also helped lower the cost to make the premium beef blend more affordable.”

Once cost was brought under control by incorporating mushrooms – Morasco says Sodexo can offer the no antibiotics and hormone-free ground beef mix using 25 percent ground mushrooms at very minimal or no price increase to consumers – Cargill and Sodexo began to perfect and tweak the product to make it flexible and versatile within the foodservice market Sodexo serves.