Kevin Donovan, national sales manager for Phillips Mushroom Farms in Kennett Square, PA, told The Produce News that the company is experiencing a dramatic increase in the demand for organic mushrooms. It has produced an organic line for about 12 years.
“We attribute this strong increase in demand to several factors,” said Donovan. “The uptick in the economy is one, but it’s mostly about people gaining more awareness about the health benefits of organics and about sustainability issues. And consumers are being offered more organics. Retailers are increasing and improving their organic produce displays, and the more products that are put in front of their customers, the more the customers purchase.”
He noted that the mushroom category is not impacted by the locally grown trend because they are produced in only a few places in the United States, and the Kennett Square area produces about 60 percent of the nation’s supply. The mushroom industry in this region evolved from emigrants, particularly from Italy, in the late 1800s. At that time about one third of the nation’s population lived within about three hours from Kennett Square. This created a great opportunity for mushroom producers because there was not yet refrigeration.
Phillips Mushroom Farms has evolved in major ways since it was founded in 1927. Earlier this year, it completed a major expansion project at its Warwick, MD, facility. The facility has been in operation for over three years, and it was expanded once before the recent project.
“We enlarged the facility to approximately 500,000-square-feet of growing space,” said Donovan. “Every room in the cutting edge facility is climate controlled by computers, and each room is harvested multiple times a day, 24-hours a day, so mushrooms are always picked at their optimum size. The new facility is Mushroom Good Agricultural Practices and Safe Quality Foods certified, and it is 20 percent more energy efficient.”
Phillips Mushroom Farms also engaged in another major initiative in its packaging by moving a lot of its products into recycled polyethylene terephthalate, commonly referred to as RPET trays.
“These plastic trays have already been recycled once, and can be again when the product is used,” Donovan added. “They are covered and sealed with clear film. Just like organics and sustainability, environmental issues are in the forefront of everyone’s mind today, and it’s important to us at Phillips Mushroom Farms to do whatever we can to contribute to a higher level of environmental consciousness.”
The company’s organic line consists of white and brown — such as Portabella and Baby Bella, and specialty mushrooms including Shiitake, Maitake, Beech, Pom Pom and Royal Trumpet varieties.
“And we offer combo packs of organic specialty and brown mushrooms,” said Donovan. “These combo packs provide different textures and flavors, but they go well together and are great in many recipes.”
He said that while brown mushrooms are definitely growing in popularity and consequent demand, the white category still leads the overall sales in mushrooms.
All of Phillips Mushrooms’ organic mushrooms are produced in the company’s facilities in Pennsylvania and in Maryland.
Donovan noted that mainstream organic retailers as well as mainstream conventional retailers are now pushing more organic products in their stores.
“Looking ahead to next year, we may have to increase our production of our entire organic line,” he said. “With more organic products being produced today, prices are becoming more competitive with conventional product, which is also contributing to the increase in demand.”