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Leon van Basten:
“Wild mushrooms are like liquorice: unique”
In June the company Funghi Funghi was founded with a double mission: bringing mushrooms to the attention of chefs and consumers, and keeping an eye on the sustainable development of wild mushrooms. Leon van Basten, former chef and spokesperson for the new company, looks at the success of a handful of consumer brands in supermarkets somewhat jealously. He talks about the ambitions of Funghi Funghi.
“Marketing is often nowhere to be found in the fresh produce sector. Few brands can be found on supermarket shelves,” Leon starts. Funghi Funghi’s starting point is therefore to do things differently, marketing products differently. These mushroom traders aren’t the first to do so, so the main question put to Leon, is: how are you going to do this?
Reintroduction of cave mushrooms
The company’s focus is on wild mushrooms, partly because of the thorough knowledge and the network of Corné Verboom. “We are a company that trades in fresh, hand-picked mushrooms from Europe,” Leon explains. The mushrooms are gathered on the premises in Meer, Belgium, where 1,500 square metres of cold store was built to store the mushrooms. Additionally, a freezer was built so that the mushrooms can be quickly frozen. Because of that, different types of mushrooms that are used in recipes can be offered year-round. “Chefs don’t necessarily need fresh mushrooms.” Ten people are employed full-time, Leon illustrates the growth of the company since it was founded.
Mushrooms that arrive in Meer are sorted and packed, after which they are sold to all major cities in Europe. “London, Paris, Copenhagen,” Leon sums up some destinations. Via Schiphol Airport, the rest of the world is also within reach, with sales in New York and Dubai. That is an interesting market. “We receive chanterelles in Meer from Belarus within 18 hours, they are immediately loaded unto the boat to London, and the next evening the chanterelle will be on the plate in a Gordon Ramsay restaurant,” Leon exemplifies the route of the mushroom from the forest to the consumer. “We have wild mushrooms, but also cultivated mushrooms form Asia and mushrooms from the marl caves in Limburg and other caves in Europe,” Leon continues. “The Pied Blue and the Champignon de Paris, among others, come from the marl caves, we want to reintroduce those.”
Bloggers, chefs and mouth-watering
“We have a strong network in Europe, but we want to be distinctive by going beyond trade. That’s very important to us,” Leon says. He means the company has the ambition of growing into an authority. “We want to find a connection with the customer of our customers. Our customers are trade companies, food service companies and wholesalers in Europe, but they know how to find each other and us. We want to encourage and inform the customers of our customers in their culinary search for culinary high points.”
Being informative plays a large part in that, and in the end, it should bring the mushroom as a whole to the attention better. “Wild mushrooms are unique. They’re like liquorice, in that nothing is the same as liquorice. The same way nothing is like a chanterelle. The best chanterelles come from Belarus, they’re both sweet and peppery. It’s mouth-watering to me as former chef,” Leon explains. “We think these new varieties will grow on the general public.” Through communication channels, Funghi Funghi wants to put mushrooms on the map, both figuratively and literally. To that end, chefs, food bloggers and other players in the gastronomic world are enlisted.
Chanterelles from the Veluwe
The second ambition of the new mushroom trader is making the production more sustainable. “No forests means no mushrooms,” Leon sums up the situation. “A mushroom is unique, just like all kinds of other types in nature, it would be a shame if they went out of existence.” He illustrates this using an example from his own childhood: “I remember walking in the forests surrounding Apeldoorn with my father and mother as a small boy, wearing Wellingtons and carrying a bucket, because those forests were filled with chanterelles. We came home carrying buckets full of chanterelles, but nowadays, you won’t find any on the Veluwe.”
To prevent this scenario also happening in other forests, Funghi Funghi wants to focus on making pickers in Romania, Lithuania and other countries more sustainable. The pickers are now mostly happy with the trade, Leon knows. In general, the pickers aren’t very environmentally aware. “It’s in our own interest, but also in that of Mother Nature’s.”
An example of “going beyond trade,” according to Leon. “It has to be about something. Themes like origin, the forests and the people working on it, sustainability and gastronomy are the topics we want to go public with.” According to Leon, more companies in the sector should work in a similar manner. The ‘fear of retail’ should be shaken off by companies, Leon states. He mentions Koppert Cress and Scelta Mushrooms as two examples for the sector that are “applying and doing” marketing and innovation right.
Leon van Basten
Publication date: 10/12/2017
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