Organic varieties account for a relatively small portion of the mushroom category, but they do have a following, and at least one company sells nothing but organic mushrooms.
Gourmet Mushrooms Inc. in Sebastopol, Calif., just north of San Francisco, is about to mark its 35th anniversary, said Bob Engel, a former chef who handles public relations, outreach and other tasks for the company.
The firm was one of the first specialty mushroom companies in the U.S. and became an organically certified grower in 2003, Engel said.
Gourmet Mushrooms offers seven varieties of culinary mushrooms and has more than two dozen kinds in its nutraceuticals division.
The company created its identity by focusing on specialties, offering the Alba Clamshell, Brown Clamshell, Trumpet Royale, Forest Nameko, Velvet Pioppini, Nebrodini Bianco and Maitake Frondosa, Engel said.
The firm ships out of San Francisco, mostly to white tablecloth restaurants. But an increasing part of its volume — about 25% — now goes to high-end retail stores. Only about 2% of its volume went to retailers when the company first opened, he said.
The mushrooms are sold under the Mycopia brand in supermarkets.
Ponderosa Mushrooms & Specialty Foods, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, is a customer of Gourmet Mushrooms, said president Joe Salvo.
The company offers a full line of specialty mushrooms as well as locally grown shiitake and oyster mushrooms and some crimini, portabella and other varieties.
Some growers say consumers often are unwilling to pay a premium for organic mushrooms when there’s not much difference between organic and conventionally grown product.
The main difference between organic and nonorganic mushrooms, in the opinion of Fred Recchiuti, general manager for Avondale, Pa.-based Basciani Foods Inc., is the paperwork required for traceback showing that raw materials used to grown them never contained any chemicals and “that horses ate organic feed,” he said.
“The biggest problem for organic is, you can’t get any more money for them,” he said. “They haven’t panned out to justify all the extra expense.”
Giorgio Foods Inc., Temple, Pa., offers a wide range of organic mushrooms — white whole, white sliced, baby portabella, portabella caps, sliced portabella and shiitake — said Bill Litvin, vice president, sales and national account manager.
The recession didn’t hamper the company’s organic business.
“Giorgio’s organic sales are increasing at double-digit rates,” Litvin said.
Basciani Foods and To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, also offer organic mushrooms that they buy from organic growers.
Organic mushroom sales have been “steady” for Dole Mushrooms in Kennett Square, Pa.
“We’ve not seen a lot of growth in it,” said director Gary Schroeder.
All mushrooms are grown with natural materials, and they are not exposed to soil, which gives them many of the qualities of organic mushrooms, he said.
“We’re very judicious in application of any control agents,” he added. “We’re pretty much in that (organic) mind space already, and I think that’s a good place.”