A Mushrooming Industry
By Sean Roach
The mushroom industry’s future is positive due to changing public perceptions of the fungus, but the industry needs restructuring to keep up with growing demands and declining profits.
Statistics from various groups around the EU, US and Australia as well as the FAO have shown a sharp increase in the demand for mushrooms, as modern consumers are increasingly seeking health-added benefits to their foods.
One of the biggest triumphs for the mushroom industry came from Pennsylvania State University research, which recently showed white button mushrooms to be the richest source of ergothioneine. The sought after super-antioxidant is present in mushrooms at 12 times the levels of wheat germ – once thought to be the highest natural source ofergothioneine.
The drive for producers is to seek new markets for mushrooms as individual businesses compete for market share. Currently, the world is saturated with processors who are able to consistently grow high yields, but at lower profit margins.
Processed mushrooms account for 55 per cent of the total world market, largely because of the fungi’s short life span. Of this 55 per cent, 50 per cent are canned and 5 per cent are dried. The Netherlands has the strongest hold on canned mushroom processing with a 39 per cent share, closely followed by China.
Fourty-five per cent of the world’s supply is consumed in un-processed form. This market is making moves to pass processed mushrooms as new consumers, lured by health benefits, are drawn to fresh mushrooms. Statistics from Australia and the FAO indicate that this sector will experience the most growth in the coming years.
Specialty mushrooms continue be a sought-after delicacy and a lucrative market since their value rose nearly 15 per cent in some sectors last year. This market is dominated by Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms, which make up nearly 60 per cent of all specialty mushrooms.
China has a firm hold of the specialty market – its growers account for 80 per cent of the world’s Oyster mushroom production alone. Concerns about China’s ability to dump cheap mushrooms on foreign markets are being quelled as Australia successfully won a dumping case against China in early 2006.
World demand continues to be centred on the white-button mushroom. This mushroom accounts for nearly 40 per cent of world production, with major growers located in the US, France and China.
Europeans remain the most voracious consumers of white-button mushrooms, with Germany importing the most out of any other country and accounting for nearly 40 per cent of all canned imports. Germany is followed closely by the US, France, Belgium, Sweden and Norway in terms of imports.
The UK is the seventh largest mushroom market. According to the UK group Mushroom Bureau, the industry reached £292mn (€435mn) in retail sales last year.
“Sales of mushrooms in the summer months have seen an impressive increase of 8.3 per cent over the last four years,” said Mushroom Bureau chairman Andrew Middlebrook. “Consumer attitudes towards mushrooms and their standard meal occasions are slowly starting to change and we have seen regular growth… sales overall across the whole year have increased by 10.5 per cent from 2002 to 2005”
In Eastern Europe demand is exceeding supply, which is keeping prices high. The usual trend in Eastern countries is a waning demand during summer months as local growing enterprises, concentrated in the Odessa region, cease working during the hot season.
However, a constant demand this year has led the price of mushrooms to rise nearly €0.31 per kg over the same summer period the year before.
In the US, the steady production of mushrooms and the fractured nature of suppliers have led to a gradual price decrease. Last year local producers experienced a 2 per cent increase in yield but a 1 per cent decrease in value of total production, bringing the US market to $908mn (€705mn).
Currently there are some 2,000 varieties of edible mushroom available on the world market.