The Belgian mushroom market doesn’t differ much from the Dutch one. Michel Lesage of Lesage champignons in Belgium, has, however, noticed a difference in these two countries’ sales markets. “In the Netherlands, growers and traders are more focused on exporting mushrooms. While in Belgium, we’re still mainly focused on our domestic market.”
Five years ago, Michel was still focused mainly on exports. “In the past, 80% of our turnover came from exports. But in recent years, we’ve seen an increasing demand from the Belgian market for local products. So, we shifted our sales market. We used to sell mushrooms to the United Kingdom. Nowadays, however, we do no or very little trade with that country. We’ve managed to cover 100% of our exports with Belgian clients, especially the retail sector. We’re selling less to wholesale markets throughout Europe too. We’re replacing this with increased direct end-user marketing”.
Lesage has also taken over more of the company’s sales. “In the Netherlands, you see that many mushroom growers are mainly focused on production. They usually sell their products to traders who market them further. In Belgium, this intermediary trade is virtually non-existent. The same company is responsible for both production and sales to the end client. That ensures we have a better overview of where our products end up. We can also respond to the demand for certain sizes or varieties. I think the fact that we do marketing adds value. It also makes the work much more interesting”.
The mushroom range has grown in recent years. “In the past, a grower did either white or chestnut mushrooms, or something else. But not all of them. Nowadays, however, people only want to use a single mushroom supplier. So, ‘or’ has become ‘and’. As a result, we see that past traders have started growing mushrooms for their clients. The client’s needs are then all met,” Michel explains.
“So, we offer everything. But we still primarily focus on white and chestnut mushroom cultivation. We grew some shiitake mushrooms too. These are the mushroom world’s real ‘flavor bombs’. We cultivated these on little oak trunks, and within two years, we had mushrooms. But, that was just a side experiment. Their yields were too irregular to find a permanent sales market.”
An extensive range, local products, sustainability, fresh products - in the 12 years Michel’s been in the business, he’s witnessed many changes in the sector. “The Dutch, Belgian, and French mushroom sectors haven’t evolved much. A lot of companies have fallen by the wayside. But, mushrooms production hasn’t decreased. In recent years, it’s become increasingly consolidated. But that’s true for our clients too. They now mainly consist of large retailers and purchasing organizations.”
Making the story known
In recent years, there’s even been a bit of a mushroom shortage. But, according to Michel, that was to be expected. “However, prices are still low. Over the years, mushrooms have gone from being a luxury item to one with which people are better-familiar. The sector must beware that it doesn’t become an everyday product. We can learn from tomato and potato growers. They now focus more on increased varieties. They pay attention to packaging, sustainability, and good backstories.”
“Mushrooms have a tale to tell too. Our sector uses the circular economy perfectly. We use little energy, and mushrooms are an ideal meat replacer. I increasingly believe this can reduce meat consumption. We can do that by focusing on the ‘blended burger’ (see insert). In the United States, especially, the mushroom industry is fully committed to this blended burger initiative. At the moment, these great stories are still too often not told by the growers. We, as a sector, should make these tales better known,” concludes Michel.
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