Demand remains tepid for organic mushrooms

09/14/2012 11:04:00 AM
Tom Burfield

While many mushrooms grower-shippers include organic mushrooms in their product lines, demand for organic product isn’t exactly off the charts.

Growers say that’s probably because many consumers consider even conventionally grown mushrooms to be safe and healthful.

In June, the Environmental Working Group, known for its controversial “Dirty Dozen” list of products with the highest amount of pesticide residue, included mushrooms on its “Clean Fifteen” list of the cleanest produce items.

“We really don’t use any pesticides,” said Fred Recchiuti, general manager for Basciani Mushroom Farms, Avondale, Pa.

Organic mushrooms aren’t much different from conventional product, and growers can’t get any more money for them, he said.

The company partners with an organic grower in order to provide organic product for customers who want it, he said.

Regular mushrooms already are perceived as being a natural product with many attributes that people assign to organic, said Gary Schroeder, director for Dole Mushrooms, Kennett Square, Pa.

The company’s volume of organic mushrooms is modest, he said.

Some years, the category sees an uptick, and in others, it doesn’t, he said.

Even conventional mushrooms are grown indoors in climate-controlled facilities, he said, which enhances the safety of the product.

Organic mushrooms also make up only a small portion of the business for To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., said Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“They are growing, but the base is very small,” he said.

Consumers are reluctant to pay a premium for organic mushrooms that are almost the same as conventional ones, he said.

Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farms Inc., Gonzales, Texas, isn’t into organics, said James Sweatt, director of sales.

“The payback doesn’t give you the lift you need” to make an organic deal worthwhile, he said.

Retailers don’t want to pay a 20% to 30% up-charge to offset the lower yields, Sweatt said.

“Most people view mushrooms as kind of organic anyway,” he said.

Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms Inc. has two certified organic farms for growing organic white and brown mushrooms, said Joe Caldwell, vice president.

“All of our operations are certified organic handlers of organic produce,” he said.

While several specialty mushrooms are organic, the vast majority of organic mushroom sales are for the white button, portabella and baby bella varieties, he said.

“We’ve seen a consistent growth in the organic market, but it still is less than 5% of the category,” he said.

Giorgio Foods Inc., Temple, Pa., grows organic white, baby bella and portabella mushrooms and sources other varieties, said Bill Litvin, vice president of sales and national account manager.

“Our organic business is showing double digit sales growth,” he said.

One company that focuses on organic mushrooms is Gourmet Mushrooms Inc., Sebastopol, Calif.

“All of our mushrooms are organic,” said Bob Engel, chef liaison.

That has been an important consideration primarily on the retail level, he said. Whole Foods Market is the company’s largest retail partner.

In foodservice, chefs are more concerned with quality than whether their mushrooms are organically grown, he said.

The company grows on a substrate that consists mostly of sawdust and agricultural byproducts.

“The change to organic involved mostly paperwork and tracking rather than any change in our systems or techniques,” Engel said.

Gourmet Mushrooms is able to keep its prices in line thanks to efficient growing practices, he said.

The company was certified organic in 2003.



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