Mushroom suppliers optimistic about 2012's prospects

01/06/2012 12:10:00 PM
Tom Burfield

A midyear shortage of raw materials used to grow mushrooms dissipated as winter kicked off, and mushroom grower-shippers seem confident the category should prosper in 2012 as consumers continue to focus on healthful eating.

“There was a shortage (of straw) this year,” said Kevin Donovan, sales manager for Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, Pa. “Farmers went to higher-paying cash crops, such as soybeans and corn.”

The company buys a year’s worth of straw at time, but supplies began to run out early, triggering production cuts.

“Production was off pretty badly in September and October,” Donovan said.

However, supplies were building up again by late November, and he said he expects sales to continue to increase in 2012.

“More people are eating mushrooms more now than they’ve ever eaten them,” he said.

Some buyers had to scramble to come up with mushrooms for the holidays, said Fred Recchiuti, general manager at Basciani Foods Inc., Avondale, Pa.

However, the company had ample supplies for its longtime customers.

Recchiuti attributed the tight supplies to a couple of factors.

“Ethanol has driven up the price of corn, and farmers don’t want to grow straw or hay anymore,” he said. “That’s put us in a situation where we’d love to grow more, but our hands are tied without raw materials.”

He also noted the growing demand.

“The Mushroom Council is doing a great job increasing demand and making mushrooms more of a staple in people’s diets than a specialty item,” he said.

To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, also was recovering from the hay and straw shortage.

“It is available now, but it’s available at a much higher price,” Paul Frederic, senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in late November.

The cost of ingredients needed to grow mushrooms has risen, and growers have to travel longer distances to secure supplies than in the past, Frederic said.

Bill Litvin, vice president of sales and national account manager for Giorgio Foods Inc., Temple, Pa., said mushrooms have been in tight supply recently and prices should rise.

“Costs are continuing to challenge growers,” he said, and some may be unable to stay in business.

Despite tight supplies, the industry should be able to meet fresh-market demand, he said.

“It will depend in part on the large players in industrial and (quick-serve restaurant) areas,” he said.

Mushroom supplies could remain “fairly limited,” because growth opportunities require time and investment on the part of growers, added Joe Caldwell, vice president at Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif., and chairman of the Mushroom Council.


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