St. Pete startup capitalizes on ‘shroom boom’
After enduring some pandemic-induced growing pains, a local entrepreneur is riding a wave of interest in adaptogenic mushrooms and expanding her regional footprint.
Maria Garces founded St. Petersburg-based Fungible Chocolates in October 2021 and began offering her products to the masses in March 2022. Clean Eating noted that “functional mushrooms are having a moment” the following month.
With supply chain disruptions and subsequent increased labor costs behind her, Garces is ready to continue scaling her bootstrapped startup.
“Functional mushrooms have really been at the forefront lately,” Garces added. “People call it a ‘shroom boom.’ There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence about how mushrooms have helped people.”
Fungible Chocolates are now available in about 20 local stores, the Thrive DTSP coworking facility and through its website. Garces recently released new flavors and packaging as she continues her methodical approach to growing the company.
As someone also ingrained in the local entrepreneurial community, she noted the importance of first establishing a solid foundation at “home.”
“Right now, our strategy is ‘chocolate-covered Tampa Bay,'” Garces said with a laugh. “It’s really important that we know what we’re doing, what we’re stepping into and that we can keep ensuring the quality of our product without just trying to get it into as many places as possible.”
Adaptogenic – or functional – mushrooms have been used in Eastern medicines for centuries. Dietary nurse and author Mary Ellen Phipps told Women’s Health that they “may support quality sleep, reduce the feeling of fatigue, calm the nervous system and help muscle healing after intense physical activity.”
Like many people, Garces found turkey tail mushrooms helped alleviate health issues without prescription medication and began brainstorming ways to help others realize the natural benefits. She decided to incorporate the potential healing properties into dark chocolate bars that are vegan, low glycemic and gluten-free.
Fungible Chocolates’ products each feature 2,000 milligrams of three different fungi strains that could provide various benefits. The startup’s first chocolate bar provides lion’s mane extract, which studies show has anti-inflammatory properties and many people believe can increase cognitive function.
“Our target audience is definitely people who are health-conscious,” Garces said. “Millennials that live a healthy lifestyle, and women that are looking for alternatives to sugary, unhealthy chocolate but still want to indulge and have the same pleasure of chocolate – with added health benefits.”
The new flavors include turkey tail to promote immunity and cordyceps mushroom to increase energy. Garces said community tastings guided her decision on which variations to launch first.
The dark chocolate bars feature an 85% cacao base, and Garces said they utilize sustainably sourced coconut sugar for sweetness. She called her products “healthy chocolate” rather than candy.
All three bars now have resealable packaging that Garces said maintains freshness. She also noted its portability.
Local chains Grassroots Kava House, Squeeze Juice Works and Driftwood Kava & Roastery will carry new shelf displays. St. Petersburg’s Rollin’ Oats Market is the latest storefront to offer Fungible Chocolates, and Garces relayed that her near-term goal is to secure 100 retail partners “as soon as possible.”
“Every single day, I wake up, and I say, ‘ok, how can I push this forward,” she added. “Because that will really prove our viability and ability to scale. The product is solid – now it’s just about really getting it out there.”
Specifically, Garces is looking for health-focused chains along the nation’s East Coast with around 20 stores. New targets include gyms, boutique hotels and resorts and additional coworking spaces.
She credited community support for helping her endure challenges during her startup’s first year, and admittedly underestimated the launch process. In addition to operational systems, Garces said she thinks about the people involved whenever she looks at a Fungible Chocolate.
She noted the human aspect in design, packaging, production, feedback and “every single little step” to making one chocolate bar. Garces said she is now confident in her supply chain collaborations and called a better understanding of an astounding process empowering.
“And then I see it (Fungible Chocolates) in people’s hands or in their homes,” Garces said. “It’s just beautiful to see how things can spread. From the immaterial place of being an idea, a vision, to integrated into people’s lives for different functions.”
For more information on Fungible Chocolates, visit the website here.