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St. Pete startup promotes health through mushroom chocolates

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg has a new, healthy chocolate company that utilizes the power of adaptogenic mushrooms to improve physical and mental well-being.

Launched in March, Fungible Chocolates has already partnered with 11 local retailers. The first chocolate bar in its line of healthy treats features cacao, coconut sugar and 2,000 milligrams of lion’s mane mushroom extract. According to healthline.com, adaptogenic mushrooms may help reduce the effects of stress on the body. They are not the same fungi as their hallucinogenic cousins.

During Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups event, hosted by Thrive DTSP, a panel of local business leaders heard how Fungible Chocolates hopes to encourage people to embody the adaptable and resourceful nature of mushrooms to increase their quality of life.

“Being fungible – be fungible is our tagline – is a mindset,” said Maria Garces, founder of Fungible Chocolates. “And a way of approaching the world with open hands, an open heart and an open mind that’s ready to receive and make the best of everything that comes our way.”

Maria Garces launched St. Petersburg-based Fungible Chocolates in March. In addition to Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups event, she will also showcase her startup at the May 17 St. Pete Pitch Night.

Garces explained that at 17, doctors prescribed her birth control to counteract hormonal issues. Several years later, she decided to try turkey tail mushrooms after hearing that the fungi helped with chronic inflammation and other health issues. Garces said she began noticing the benefits in just a few months, and after a year of taking the mushrooms, she was off the medication and felt great.

Following her health improvements, Garces said she started thinking of ways to help others realize the benefits of adaptogenic mushrooms. She decided to combine their healing properties with 85% dark chocolate bars that are vegan, low glycemic and gluten-free.

“I believe that mushrooms have the ability to help us better understand our bodies, our environments and perhaps even ourselves,” she said.

In addition to lion’s mane, Garces plans to release other flavors of chocolate featuring varying mushrooms, all of which she said promote different areas of health. She expects to launch the variations by the end of the year.

Garces told the panel that the global dark chocolate market is worth $55.5 billion and is forecast to reach $74.9 billion by 2027. She added that there are around 20,000 health food stores nationwide.

According to Garces, the Fungible Chocolates’ target audience is health-conscious millennials that live active lifestyles, and health-conscious Gen X women looking for healthier alternatives to conventional chocolates.

“If we keep growing at the current rate, in year one we will be selling 31,200 bars,” she said. “In year two, 88,800 bars and in year three, 146,400 bars.”

Garces noted she based those estimates on current growth rates without factoring in potential partnerships with major retailers. The founder said she is currently focusing on creating a solid foundation for her startup to ensure growth “without getting too big, too soon.”

The bars retail for $7.99 through the Fungible Chocolate website and 11 local retailers, and Garces said she acquired the retail partnerships in three days of going door-to-door. After 11 of the first 14 small businesses agreed to carry her product, she stopped to let her supply catch up to the demand.

“Our goal is to become the standard for mushroom chocolate in the United States and the world,” she said. “With that, we also want to focus on creating programs that encourage people to do more research about mushrooms.

“Mushrooms are not only great for us, they’re amazing for the environment,” said Garces. “But not enough research is being done in that respect.”

In addition to Wednesday’s 1 Million Cups event, Garces will showcase her startup to the community during St. Pete Pitch Night. Fungible Chocolates is one of five finalists to compete in the pitch competition, with a grand prize of $5,000.

Presented by St. Pete Greenhouse, 3 Daughters Brewing will host the event at 222 22nd St. S. in St. Petersburg. St. Pete Pitch Night takes place May 17, from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

For more information on Fungible Chocolates and a list of local retailers, visit the website here.


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