Here are some suggestions to help you explore the marketing opportunities for fresh mushrooms in your area.
For the small grower, making a “milk run” delivery of mushrooms on a weekly basis is the most satisfying and profitable market. If you are a CSA farmer, including a few mushrooms with your produce deliveries will make you very popular with your subscribers.
Large cities within a 75 mile radius are good prospects. Begin by visiting local health food stores, supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and restaurants. Buy some really nice mushrooms and write down their retail and wholesale prices and their average weekly demand.
Oriental restaurants often get their shiitake, known to the Chinese as Huang-do, dried at very low prices from China, Japan, or Taiwan. Upscale Japanese restaurants can be an exception and are sometimes facinated by the sight of locally produced mushrooms.
European-style restaurants, company and college cafeterias, hotels, caterers, and produce places are your best prospects. Talk to the chef, who is the artist, not the manager, who just wants to save money. Chefs love healthy produce, and a few mushrooms arranged with a few parsley sprigs on a napkin in a basket is a tempting sight. Offer the chef a few mushrooms and a simple basic recipe to experiment with. You’re a local grower who will be in full production in about a year. Are they interested in locally-grown, fresh shiitake mushrooms of high quality, delivered weekly? About how many mushrooms a week would they be likely to want?
Write everything down, including the chef’s name and phone.
Depending on local prices, you might ask for $7-4/lb. Some chefs buy their produce from the farmers’ markets. The price you can get depends on local prices, the demand, and your ability to reliably deliver a high quality product. You make a personal connection with your customers when you call your to find out how many pounds of ‘shrooms they want that week. At farmers’ markets you should be able to command near-retail prices, currently $8 to $16 /lb for shiitake, depending on the grade of mushroom. National bottom wholesale average is $4/lb.
You may find other mushroom lovers at food coops, CSA’s, hospitals, schools, institutions of all kinds, factory cafeterias, catering services, clubs, health spas, fairs, conferences, workshops, potlucks, friends and relatives… The information you collect will allow you to estimate how many mushrooms to grow, and how many logs to cut to produce the amounts you are likely to sell. Our page “How To Cultivate Mushrooms in Natural Logs” will give you production figures and other vitally important information.
You can now sell your produce via e-mail! Check out GourmetFoodMall@mail.vresp.com What makes this practical is the US Post Office’s Flat Rate Priority Boxes – the boxes are free, delivery is 2-3 days anywhere in the US, and the rates are constant, which allows you to do a back-of -the-envelope calculations for shipping.
Another possible outlet for your mushrooms are special festivals and markets in your area. An example for Tennessee can be found at http://www.themarketsatthemill.com/. A google search for local markets and festivals may prove entertaining and profitable.
The big question is: What mushrooms to grow?
Shiitake is really the king of commercial mushrooms. Why? It has become very popular in the US, so the demand is high. It has an excellent shelf life, a month or more under refrigeration in paper bags or cartons. And it fetches top price among the widely-cultivated mushrooms, wholesale ranging from $4 to $8 per pound, retail from $8 to $15 a pound for top grade or donko winter-grown. The more discerning chefs will want shiitake that was harvested that same week. But older shiitake is fine too! And the ones you cannot sell will dehydrate beautifully – just be sure you dry them completely for at least 24 hours, otherwise they will self-digest. You can pre-dry anything if it’s left open in a refrigerator. Eight pounds of fresh mushrooms makes one pound of dried ones. When you rehydrate them you only get four pounds, but the flavor is twice as intense, which is why some people prefer them dry!
Dry mushrooms make great gifts, but the large markets for dry shiitake are dominated by dirt-cheap imports from the Orient, sometimes contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides. Your clean, locally-grown dry or fresh mushrooms are a selling point for discerning customers and health food stores.
How about other kinds of mushrooms? None are as easy to grow in logs as shiitake, thanks to decades of intensive selection and testing by the world’s true mushroom experts – China and Japan. Oysters of different types grow well in the softer hardwoods like poplar, willow, cottonwood, etc. They only have a refrigerated shelf life of about one week, and they bring $3-4 per pound. Given their short sellable shelf life, you have to be pretty agile to get them sold and delivered the same week.
Other specialty mushrooms include the medicinal Reishi, which grows well in all harwood logs, partially buried horizontally on moist (not wet) ground in the shade. If you can locate a market of Oriental or alternative medicine people, reishi can bring in $8 – 15 per pound or more. Note: reishi is hard and woody, not edible, and can have a long shelf life. It is ground and put in capsules, or made into tea for its immunomodulating and anti-viral properties, which have been scientifically proven.
Lions mane and maitake are less prolific in logs, but like all mushrooms, are easily grown by the large commercial mushroom factories in sterilized hardwood sawdust or straw.
One other important factor for shiitake is that it is an immune stimulant. In fact, it is one of the 3 mushroom constituents of the compound AHCC, which triples the activity of the NK cells, the first line of defense of the immune system. AHCC is widely used in Japan for prevention and as adjunct to conventional cancer therapy.
The immunity-enhancing and cholesterol-reducing properties of shiitake identifies it as a true health food to informed people. Considering the delicious flavors and texture, plus excellent protein amino acid balance, and vitamin and mineral content, the average mushroom is a superior gourmet health food. And the highest-quality mushrooms are grown in their natural medium, harwood logs.
If you grow your business beyond the local demand, there are large distributors that will buy your mushrooms if you can reliably supply a minimum number of boxes per week, at low-end wholesale prices (approximately $4/lb fresh). Perforated produce boxes are used for shipping. Current wholesale buyers may be found in a Google search. Weekly wholesale prices of the many species of mushrooms sold at the San Francisco, New York, Dallas, and Miami wholesale markets are available in the excellent Mushroom Growers Newsletter, PO Box 5065, Klamath Falls OR 97601.
Mushroompeople offers discounts for large orders of sawdust spawn. If you are interested in a quote, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Mushrooming from Mushroompeople!
Serving mushroom lovers since 1976.