In recent years, the market for organic exotic mushrooms has grown considerably. Investments in growing mushrooms are made in various countries. Pleunis Mushrooms from Stramproy, the Netherlands, has also noticed the increase. “We’ve seen the company growing well, and demand is growing as well,” says Koert Pleunis. “I don’t know about regular white mushrooms, because I don’t really work with those. You can see more and more people seize on it and also start growing exotic mushrooms.”
Thanks to the market’s growth, Pleunis Mushrooms sees opportunities to build a new nursery. “We’ve rented our current location, but we have plans to build our own location in Belgium,” Koert says. “We’ll have new sales options because of this. We’ve noticed an increased demand for local product. It can mostly be seen in Germany and Belgium.” Because Belgian supermarkets prefer domestic product, the decision was made to construct the new building across the border. “I think we’ll have more chances because of this, and Belgium has fewer mushroom growers.”
Across the border
The Belgian market is a relatively new sales market for Koert’s mushrooms. “It wasn’t a very important market for us. We’re mostly in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. This way, we can shift our focus to Belgium a bit, but we also want to keep our current customers. In the Netherlands, demand for local products doesn’t play a very larger part.” Mostly Belgian and German supermarkets prefer domestic mushrooms. “We’ve lost some customers because of that, not because they weren’t satisfied, but because they wanted local product. We also considered moving to Germany, but that would involve more of a language barrier. Belgium is closer, and it’s only a small step.” And it is indeed a small step, Pleunis Mushrooms is one kilometre from the border.
Divided over 14 cells with a total surface of 2,000 square metres, 4,000 kilos have to be picked every week. “We have separate cells for the various varieties,” Koert says. Some varieties are now still together in the cells, but that’s not ideal for climate conditions. “We will be able to start in a clean cell every week, and adjust the climate to the variety.” The building plans have been given to the bank, who has to approve financing for the project.
Maitake: mushroom with potential
The complete production has organic certification. “We currently grow three varieties of shiitake, maitake and eryngii.” Shiitake has become quite integrated in the Netherlands by now. Eryngii is becoming better-known in Germany. “Maitake is less well-known. Because of that, it’s sometimes difficult to find customers on the fresh market. Maitake mushrooms mostly go to restaurants and similar. You won’t soon find it in supermarkets, but it’s a mushroom with potential. We receive positive responses from everyone.”
It’s mostly the unfamiliarity with the exotic mushroom varieties that hampers these products, although Koert has noticed a change. More attention is given to exotics in the mushroom segment. “It can also be seen on television,” Koert continues. “In TV shows and cookery shows special mushrooms are used more often as well, and consumers then also want to try them.” Koert mostly sees chances for the sector in making less familiar varieties of mushrooms better known. “If we all work hard on that, it will bear fruit.”
More expensive substrates decide competition
The biggest difference between conventional and organic mushrooms is in the raw materials. “These have to be organic,” Koert explains. “For example, white mushrooms grow on straw and chicken manure, but the straw and chicken manure then also have to be organic. We grow our varieties on pure wood. It’s easier to get that organically. We receive organic timber from Staats-bosbeheer, a Dutch government organisation for forestry.”
The growth on the mushroom market also results in investments in cultivation projects in Germany and Poland. “First the Poles dedicated themselves to growing white mushrooms, but in recent years they’ve also started growing shiitake and eryngii, and the product is headed this way.” Polish growers mostly sell on the German market, an important market for the Dutch grower. “Price differences aren’t that large, because the substrate used to grow these mushrooms is expensive, and they also have to buy it in the Netherlands.” One of the largest substrate suppliers is located in the Netherlands, and that’s where Polish growers buy their raw materials to grow the mushrooms. “I think we have similar costs,” Koert says. “It’s more for white mushrooms, the picking costs are more significant. For us, substrates are expensive, so that prices for substrates have more weight than picking costs. Of course there’s some difference, and perhaps Polish growers are more easily satisfied by smaller margins.”