Kevin Donovan, national sales manager for Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square, PA, told The Produce News that the company is seeing strong interest in organic mushrooms at the retail level.
“Some retailers have been on the organic trend since the get-go, and others are just beginning to promote it,” said Donovan. “We are also seeing a lot of expansion of the organics section in produce departments today. We are promoting our organic line accordingly.”
The economic turnaround has something to do with the growth in organics, but Donovan attributes the strong demand more to the health and nutritional factors, added to by consumers’ beliefs that organics are a safer choice.
“Someone recently told me that his father is going through his second bout with cancer and his medical practitioner told him to eat only organic foods,” he said. “Issues such as this are finding their way into consumers’ knowledge regarding the foods they put into their bodies. This is also affecting the demand for organic mushrooms. And consumers sometimes think that organics are an overall safer product.”
He also pointed out that as organic production increases, prices compared to conventional products are leveling off.
Having a strong organic line of mushrooms also falls into place with sustainability beliefs. Phillips Mushrooms has switched to using recycled PET trays for its mushrooms.
“Between 25 and 50 percent of the trays have already been recycled,” explained Donovan. “As a company we have studied and implemented sustainable practices in every way possible for over 15 years. When we began our organic program we used cardboard trays to make them more sustainable, but we learned that the trays don’t hold up well to moisture.”
Phillips Mushroom Farms supports the Mushroom Council’s effort to promote the “Swap It or Top It” initiative, and Donovan said it is a great way to increase the use of mushrooms.
“And it’s a great way to get people to eat more nutritiously with less fat and sodium while getting great flavor,” he noted. “Although we don’t process food items, we do sell to processors who mix the mushrooms with meats and we’re seeing a steady increase in the demand for this use.”
Labor issues are always challenging in the mushroom industry just as it is in every sector of fruit and vegetable production. But Donovan said that it is a particularly tough year in this regard.
“It’s a very limiting factor in the future planning of our operation,” he said. “Companies like ours cannot expand their businesses without labor to harvest the mushrooms. Our labor force is always a concern, but this is the first year that it is highly troublesome. We’ve tried to tell our government that if we don’t have labor we’re going to have to bring our food in from other countries — and not all of those countries have the food-safety initiatives in place that are demanded of us here.”