This strange and difficult year is coming to an end. The changes caused by COVID-19 in the global economy and social life can be called grand. They affected all industries, including mushroom growing.
The structure of consumption has changed drastically, logistics have suffered, and the consumers preferences have changed. During the lockdown, mushroom farms faced huge problems in selling the product. But, fortunately, the need for mushrooms as a healthy and tasty product has not disappeared. And those companies that were able to quickly cope with the changes in the outside world sometimes not only did not lose, but also became better and stronger.
In each country, the mushroom industry experienced this crisis in different ways. Netherlands farms, which previously supplied mushrooms to HoReCa industry in large packages, had to quickly reequip for small packaging for households, in Poland producers were forced to solve problems with workers and logistics, Belarusians discovered the freezing market.
Eventually, in most countries, mushroom producers overcame difficult times and are thinking about further development.
The Mushroom Informational Agency UMDIS interviewed people from the mushroom industry all over the world in order to compose a picture for you of how mushroom producers survived 2020.
Maksym Yenchenko, the Regional Representative for Amycel, the Director of UMDIS Agency.
Krystian Szudyga, the President of the Polish Mushroom Producers Association:
“Poland produces a large amount of mushrooms for export. This year, in March-April, we reduced the production of compost due to the pandemic – exports also decreased and became destabilized. During this year, the amount of exported champignons decreased by 15% in comparison with last year’s results.
There are also some problems with the UK market due to Brexit.
Sales to Germany are also partially blocked. The German market is important for us and has a great weight in the sales structure. For example, an area near Poznan – a region geographically close to Germany – where mushroom farms traditionally produce a lot of brown champignons. Grown directly for customers from Germany who want exactly brown champignon. In that region, brown champignon accounts for up to 50% of the total champignon production. And the main focus is export to Germany.
But it wouldn’t be right to say that the mushroom industry is now experiencing serious difficulties. When I look at the statistics – we already have the data for November – the situation is now the same as it was at this exact time a year ago. Much has stabilized. I can’t say that everything is bad. And the prices are the same as last year – about 1 € / kg. Foreign market, sales through supermarkets are now at the usual level. Over the past four months, compost production in Poland has returned to the same volume as a year ago – meaning that the volume of mushroom production has returned to normal. There are no specific problems with mushroom sales during the second lockdown”.
Tom van Vijk, the Chairman of the Mushroom Sector in Netherlands Agricultural and Horticultural Association (LTO Nederland):
“Obviously, the situation in the Netherlands mushroom sector in 2020 was also different from usual. Production of champignons for the processing industry was slightly lower as a result of lower sales in the catering sector. However, for mushroom farms it didn’t become a significant problem.
It also turned out to be a challenge, that since we couldn’t sell usual large packages to restaurant and catering industry, this volume had to be packed into smaller packages in order to sell it to the end consumer. It inquires much effort and money and is much more time consuming. On the other hand, more champignons appeared on the fresh market due to the level of production and good sales levels on the Netherlands domestic market. For sure, some champignon producers have faced problems related to sales restrictions to HoReCa. But these local problems were resolved by the end of the year as a result of changes in the sales structure. As for other mushrooms, their market was stable, and overall, I can rate it as good.”
Gareth McKenna, the Owner and the Director of McKenna Mushrooms and the Director of Commercial Mushroom Producers Organization in Ireland:
“My farm is filling 125t of compost per week producing on average 44t of mushrooms per week for the UK market. The mushroom industry in Ireland has been challenging in 2020 with the main challenge’s being BREXIT, Coronavirus and availability of labour. Brexit will see challenges in terms of currency and logistics of getting our product to the market place. Coronavirus has been a challenge to all business in the world, however demand for mushrooms has been strong through this period with sales looking strong for 2021. We have seen an increase in demand for chestnut mushrooms in the UK markets and I believe this could be down to the Vitamin D range and the health benefits that are being promoted.
“When the lockdown started, sales of both champignons and oyster mushrooms simply stopped. Mushrooms were thrown away because we couldn’t sell them. The prices did not decrease because there was no point in doing that – mushrooms simply either were bought or weren’t , regardless of the price. Spain then reduced the production of oyster mushrooms by 40%. Unfortunately, we are ending this year with the same -40% from the usual volume. Oyster mushroom prices this year ranged from 1.5 to 3 € / kg. At the same time, prices were slightly falling during two months of quarantine. The last month, taking into account the decreased volume of substrate production, oyster mushrooms are already in short supply and are sold at a higher price.
Prices for white champignon from the producer in 2020 ranged from 1.20 to 1.60 € / kg. Since the summer, there is a shortage of champignon and portobello in Spain. Now champignons are produced and consumed as much as before quarantine. And Portobello’s volume has even increased. Therefore, there is no strong concerns about the second lockdown.
The main trend this year is for exotic mushrooms. Probably as a result of proper successful marketing, production and consumption of shiitake has increased in Spain this year. Previously, consumers were offered local shiitake grown on sterile or pasteurized substrate – which look less appetizing.
In 2018, Chinese import of a slightly different shiitake began. In 2019, the demand for those shiitake began to grow. And by the end of 2020, shiitake consumption is already quite good. In response to this, the local production of shiitake substrate increased – most of it goes to the domestic market, part is exported to Portugal, France and Italy.
Most of Shiitake is sold through supermarket chains. This year about 7 tons of shiitake are sold per day. This is 30-40% more than in 2019. Producer`s price is 4-4.5 € / kg. Shiitake in Spain, on the one hand, captures its own segment, and on the other hand, it takes customers away from the oyster mushrooms”.
“In Greece, we mainly produce oyster mushrooms and a small amount of champignons. Champignons are grown by only one farm – on the border with Turkey. It is not very profitable for us. Firstly, because of the low prices on imported champignons. Secondly, investments in the construction and equipment for a mushroom farm are much higher.
Normal production of oyster mushrooms for our country is 50 tons per week. And we import around 170 tons of champignons. There is practically no export of mushrooms. Meaning, in Greece the average consumption is 220 tons of mushrooms per week – which is 11,440 tons per year. For ten million local residents.
Covid-19 was killing us for many months. Imagine that usually an additional 30 millions of tourists come to Greece over the summer! They provide a normal level of mushroom consumption for us. This is a huge market. This year we hardly saw any tourists.
This year, we sold 35% less of oyster mushrooms than in 2019. In October, we reduced our production, so we supplied 40% less of oyster mushrooms to the market compared to last year – but now the situation has slightly improved.
In the end of summer- beginning of autumn, two islands: Crete and Evia, as well as the region near Karditsa, were hit hard by large floods. There are three mushroom farms there – a large one with a capacity of 7 tons per week. Two smaller ones that produce 3.5 tons per week each. They have suffered greatly – and they are closed now, being restored. Meaning, production of mushrooms in Greece decreased by this volume.
The largest compost yard, which makes substrate for oyster mushrooms, has also suffered. It has not worked since the summer – and only resumed work in late October. This naturally reduced the production of oyster mushrooms in the country during that time – and we managed to avoid too much mushroom surplus.
In the fall, production was low – and the demand was low. Now production has increased because the largest compost yard has started to work again – almost at its usual pace. And the weather is not cold, as it’s usual in winter, which is favorable for growing oyster mushrooms. At the same time, demand has risen – but not at all the same as usual at Christmas. We have a surplus of mushrooms.
The pandemic did not cause a decrease in sales prices to the final consumer. It also did not cause a drop in farm sales prices – at least for larger farms. Less production volume, less demand – but the same prices. We always sign contracts with supermarkets at the beginning of the year for a whole year ahead, indicating prices and volumes of supplies for each month – they were signed before the start of the pandemic. From sales plans, I usually know how many tons of mushrooms I sell each month – well, except for this unusual year with covid-19. Nevertheless, one kilogram of packaged oyster mushrooms in a supermarket cost about 2 € this year.The price of champignon is about the same, or slightly below 1.8-1.9 € / kg. Our prices and deliveries have been stable throughout the year, no matter what.
Smaller farms found it more difficult – their prices and sales were falling. For example, one supermarket has three to four mushroom suppliers. At the same time, only two larger ones have a contract with a stable price and volume, and the supermarket does not have such obligations to the rest – they negotiate with them on a weekly basis depending on the needs of the final customer. In the conditions of Covid-19, it was more difficult for such producers.
I have a joke. People started buying lemons and oranges because of vitamin C. Not mushrooms. Mushrooms provide vitamin D, not C – so we’re just one letter away from money”.
Yury Boychuk, the consultant of UMDIS Mushroom Information Agency:
“In Moldova, champignons are produced by eight farms – an average of 30-40 tons per month. Meaning, the country produces about 250-300 tons per month. There is no monopoly – production is fairly uniform. This year we had a small volume of import from Ukraine and there were supplies of champignons from Belarus.
When all food markets were closed since the end of March due to the coronavirus, mushrooms were sold to consumers via Facebook at low prices. Producers delivered mushrooms to even small customers. We even had to throw some away. Now the situation is like this: no one reduced the volume, everyone preferred to work at a low price – which lowered it even more. Now the price allows us to survive – but with the high cost of mushroom production in Moldova, it does not allow you to make a profit. In euros, we sell mushrooms from the farm at 0.72-0.8 € / kg, wholesale markets sell for 0.86 € / kg. However, last year the price was 1.15 € / kg from the farm. Also, by the New Year, the price did not go up as it usually does.
Thus, in 2020, Moldova produces the same volume of champignons as in 2019 – but it is sold at an average price which is 41% lower than last year.
Another trend this year is that mushroom complexes have stopped their investments. If earlier the additional equipment was being bought, this year I have not heard of even one mushroom producers who has updated something. The lack of funds and the instability of the situation are affecting that.
Judging by the charts and statistics from producers, we can conclude that they plan to keep production at the same level next year – they expect that the price will rise when the wave of the pandemic begins to decline”.
Mehmet Kaplan, mushroom farm owner, cultivation consultant:
“In 2019, according to official statistics, Turkey produced 49.364 tons of mushroom – which is 9 thousand tons more than in 2017. There are no official statistics for 2020 yet. But, judging by our observations – we are a large mushroom farm in Turkey – this year the volume of production has definitely not decreased.
In Turkey, the consumption of mushrooms continues to grow every year – now it is about 0.5 kg of mushrooms per year per person. This is not much, but we have stable growth.The pandemic did not affect the growth trend of the mushroom market in Turkey.Although all restaurants, hotels, food markets are closed on weekends due to lockdown, people continue to eat mushrooms at home. As you can see from the numbers, Turkey is still producing quite little compared to Europe. Yes, this year some modern mushroom farms began to produce a little more – and this has blocked the volume produced a year ago by small farms that closed. But for us the closure of mushroom farms is not news. The main reason is not the pandemic, but a “polluted informational space” in matters of mushrooms cultivation, the lack of professional consultants. And the low level of equipment and manufacturability on farms.
Our farm is one of the most modern ones in Turkey. As far as I know, there are up to five mushroom farms in Turkey that meet modern standards – I mean the Netherlands model. The rest are low-equipped. Even if someone opens a new farm, the owners think: “The mushroom business is a profitable one. Let’s make a mushroom farm, but at a very low cost”. So I guess that in the next couple of years, this tendency will not change in our country – small, unequipped mushroom farms will still appear – and, perhaps, only a few modern ones. The main reason why this is so, is that the consumption rate of mushrooms is still quite low.
Prices per kilogram of white champignon now range from 1 to 1.5 € / kg. Despite the pandemic, distribution rate in the country has not changed this year. Turkish mushroom farms usually sell the product to an intermediary who resells it to customers such as markets, shops, restaurants. Probably, the sales structure of these intermediaries has changed – but mushroom growers did not feel a significant difference”.
Martine Poulain, Relationship and General Manager in Australian Mushroom Growers` Association:
“For the fiscal year from June 2019 to June 2020, Australia produced 68,823 tons of mushrooms, from which 3% was for processing. 55,375 tons of mushrooms, worth € 218.05 million, were sold through retail, while 15.505 tons, worth € 60.95 million, were intended for catering industry.
According to our data, 69% of Australian households, when buying mushrooms, buy 291 grams of mushrooms in one trip to the store. Covid-19 made some changes in the way households bought food. This much significantly reflected the decrease in the value of the catering segment and the increase in the retail sales segment.
It should be noted that the mushroom is one of the most consumed products in the catering industry compared to various vegetables. In the structure of retail, this is not the case – therefore, it is difficult to replace sales to HoReCa with sales through retail.
The stability of the supply of mushrooms to the market this year was interrupted by the closure of two producers, which caused delays in supplies. However, further this deficiency of the mushrooms was blocked by the expansion of production capacities of other complexes.
Wholesale sales of the mushrooms this fiscal year (June 2019 to June 2020) were 3.93 € / kg – which is 12% lower than last year, when it was 4.47 € / kg”.
Alexey Kurbanaev, General Director in “AgroGrib”:
“In 2020, the demand from the HoReCa segment dropped significantly – due to the situation with the coronavirus, a large number of restaurants and other catering establishments temporarily stopped working or closed. At the same time, production values continued to grow. According to the forecast Russia in 2020 will produce more than 100 thousand tons of mushroom.
Naturally, this led to a tangible excess of supply over demand, and this, in it`s turn, had a negative impact on prices. In 2020, the average price per kilogram of champignon for Russian farms decreased by 12-14% in comparison with the previous year. Even now, before the New Years, we do not feel such an essential increase in demand as it was in previous years. Thus, the mushroom industry in Russia has come to a state of saturation of the domestic market with locally grown products.
Next year, the rate of production growth will slow down significantly – most of the new capacities in the industry have already started working, but there are no new large projects planned. And I believe, that this will allow to stabilize the market”.
Republic of Belarus
Vyacheslav Turbin, the Director of “Bonshe”:
“The market of fresh mushrooms in 2020 in Belarus was not as good as before due to the pandemic. The average price this year has decreased by more than 10% compared to the previous year. And during some periods even more significantly.
The share of our company in mushroom production in Belarus is over 60% and the main market for our products is Russia. The lockdown and the related problems with demand and logistics we experienced in full. This made our company look for new opportunities, and I am very proud that we succeeded. As well as how we managed to save the team, providing jobs in such a difficult situation.
This made us pay attention to new markets, and we were surprised to find out that they are very promising. The main discovery of 2020 was the market of frozen products. In 2020, we sold 1,380 tons of frozen mushrooms, of which 90% was sold in Russia, and next year we will strive to increase sales of frozen champignon to 1000 tons per month. For freezing our champignons we use the capacities of partner companies. At the same time, we managed to achieve acceptable prices for frozen champignon.
We also took up other areas – champignon blanching and drying. It looks quite promising in Belarus now.
The goal for the next year is to develop new directions and markets. And of course we are looking forward to the opening of our compost production early next year.”
Maksym Yenchenko, the Regional Representative for Amycel, the Director of UMDIS Agency:
“The reason for joy in the outgoing year may be that mushroom production is not air traveling or HoReCa industry. Still, people eat even during quarantine and lockdown, and the agricultural industry has suffered less from the coronavirus pandemic than others. However, there were some negative situations.
A total lockdown in the spring of 2020, with the closure of all restaurants, food markets, and the fear of the population and general panic led to a sharp drop in demand. As a result, April 2020 was marked by record low prices. Unsure of the future, many farms canceled compost applications. But already in May and June, the situation with prices changed drastically for the better – because of the shortage of mushrooms, which was the result of a decrease in loads in March-April. Since July, production volumes have been restored and prices returned to the fairly low levels – in July, August and September, they were 10-20% lower than in 2019.
In September and October, the Ukrainian mushroom industry suffered from natural causes – a huge harvest of forest mushrooms. Ukrainians returned from the forest with baskets of wild mushrooms, which negatively affected the demand for champignon. And such large amount of forest mushrooms, according to many, is also the reason for why mushroom prices did not recover until the end of the year. It seems that for the first time in the history of UMDIS`s observations – we monitor prices for mushrooms from 2012 year – the price of champignon before the New Years rose so slightly. Even though it started from a low level.
Oyster mushroom producers in Ukraine in 2020 noted good demand, and for almost the entire year the price of oyster mushroom was higher than the price of champignon. But the joy of high prices was overshadowed by the low harvests noted by many farms. Also, this year we can note that the demand for brown mushrooms in Ukraine has started to increase.
But 2020 also brought a lot of positive changes that will certainly allow mushroom companies to grow stronger in the future. This primarily concerns sales and customer relationships. In difficult times, the winners were the companies that built a sustainable sales system. Many have mastered online sales and expanded their assortment.
Also, many farms used 2020 to modernize and improve technologies used on their farms and this tendency is going to be strong the next year”.