Fletcher Street, director of sales & marketing for Ostrom Mushroom Farms, commonly referred to as Ostrom’s, said the Olympia, WA-based company launched its paper till retail packaging concept over three years ago, setting an industry standard for being unique in look and fully recyclable.
“Recently, we have added ‘sustainably sourced’ to the paper till package, along with the ‘Good Forest Stewardship’ certification logo: once again leading the industry as the first mushroom company to have both recyclability and sustainability on our packaging,” said Ms. Street. “In addition, Ostrom’s corrugated program is sourced from sustainable paper sources. Ostrom’s is fully Produce Traceability Initiative compliant with industry recommendations.”
Last year, Ostrom’s launched its vitamin D sliced white and brown mushrooms to the retail trade. Ms. Street said the company plans to add sliced and whole packaged Portabellas in January 2013.
“Vitamin D is of significant concern in the Pacific Northwest: think rain and cloudy skies,” she said. “There are only four mushroom farms in the U.S. offering vitamin D mushrooms at this time, and only two that offer both white and brown vitamin D mushrooms.”
In terms of growth, Ms. Street said browns are growing faster than whites, especially packaged sliced at retail, and that the company sees it as a continuing trend throughout 2013.
This fall, Ostrom’s plans to expand its current production by one-third to meet the growing demand for its mushrooms. Ms. Street said it is the firm’s first expansion in over 15 years, and so it is very exciting for the company.
“Our business continues to grow in the Pacific Northwest as well as in Hawaii and Alaska,” she added. “And we are looking to move outward into markets in Eastern Washington and Idaho.”
Current trends in the mushroom category, she pointed out, are health and wellness awareness, vitamin D, meatless, and weight management. Mushroom Swapability is a concept that the entire industry is behind, which involves “swapping” some meat for chopped mushrooms in favorite recipes such as taco filling, meatballs, meatloaf and spaghetti sauce, to name a few.
“‘Swapability’ reduces calories and sodium, and at the same time boosts flavor,” said Ms. Street. “It also cuts cost by reducing the amount of more expensive proteins. It works for kids and people who do not normally use mushrooms. It is a terrific concept for school districts to add veggies to kid’s meals and for other foodservice and healthcare applications.”
She acknowledged that for the mushroom industry in general, costs continue to rise on raw materials, labor and food-safety compliances. Ostrom’s has been somewhat fortunate in that in its region the wheat crop — or straw — has been strong this year.
“We did not have the drought conditions that the East experienced,” she said. “However, other supplemental materials have increased significantly, such as gypsum, canola meal and alfalfa screenings.”
Fuel, she said, is of course a huge issue related to freighting in materials and shipping product. Labor is also a big issue. Washington State is slated to have another minimum wage increase which will give it one of the highest, if not the highest, minimum wage state in the nation.
“Mushroom prices have not risen correspondingly,” said Ms. Street. “Costs are squeezing margins and making it difficult to compete. We do anticipate prices to go up in 2013; it is just a matter of when.”
“A common concern is food-safety compliance,” she continued. “Too many of our customers want unique or competing audit certifications, which add significant costs. It would be beneficial to the consumer and the industry to have an industry-wide standard.”