( Courtesy The Packer Staff )

The new coronavirus has created trying conditions for mushroom grower-shippers, especially those who do a significant amount of business with foodservice operators.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a challenge for Ponderosa Mushrooms & Specialty Foods, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, but it has managed to survive, said president Joe Salvo.

Fortunately, he said that as of mid-July, there had been no reports of COVID-19 at the company.

Still, safety precautions were in effect, including mandatory masks, hand sanitizing and taking employees’ temperatures every day.

Workers were encouraged to say home if they were sick.

“We’re conscious of taking care of our family,” Salvo said.

But the pandemic has taken its toll on the company, since 70% of its business was foodservice.

“We were only able to hold onto 5% of our foodservice business,” he said.

Business was slowly rebounding this summer, but it still had a ways to go.

“We’re still far below our normal numbers,” Salvo said.

The company serves restaurants, concert venues and “every single hockey rink in Canada,” he said.

“These places aren’t going to come back anytime soon,” Salvo said. “It’s a real challenge.”

Foodservice was 50% of the business at Ostrom Mushroom Farms, Olympia, Wash., said Fletcher Street, marketing and sales director.

“From a business standpoint, (the coronavirus) just nailed the foodservice people terribly,” she said.

Every restaurant was shut down, Street said.

“We had to make the decision to cut back production.”

Business finally is starting to creep back, she said in mid-July.

Meanwhile, the company has implemented the usual precautions, including social distancing and staggered work shifts.

Costs are up for all suppliers because of new personal protective equipment requirements and extensive measures to keep employees safe, said Michael Richmond, vice president of sales for South Mill Champs, Kennett Square, Pa.

“Distancing between workers requires longer, less efficient shifts to achieve the same output,” he added.

Foodservice on the fresh side of the business is down more than 50%, he said.

“We had a bounce back that was shorted lived with the resurgence of COVID-19 in many states,” Richmond said.

Once To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pa., had all of its safety protocols in place, the company worked to simplify its operation, said Kevin Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing.

“Our goal was to make our employees as comfortable and as safe as possible,” he said.

“We made minor changes to our product mix and paused some items that generally take more time to harvest or pack.”

As with all businesses, keeping associates safe and healthy during the pandemic has been the “core focus and challenge” at Highline Mushrooms, Leamington, Ontario, said Jane Rhyno, vice president of sales and marketing.

“We have managed well, and it’s all thanks to the excellent efforts of everyone at our farms,” she said.

Although there was softening in foodservice sales, retail sales have topped last year’s, she said.

“Mushrooms are primarily an ingredient in cooking, so the more people eat at home, the more sales increase,” she said.

It also helps that mushrooms are in line with many food trends, including plant-based eating, she said.

“It’s a great category that retailers can really look to promote.” 

 

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