Organic mushrooms still have a modest share in the market. It’s just less than six percent of the entire sector. This percentage grows slowly every year. Nesco mushrooms is a mushroom grower and trader. As such, this Dutch business is 100% focused on cultivating organic mushrooms. “Our products aren’t destined solely for the Dutch and Belgian markets. They also go to Scandinavia, Germany, and Switzerland,” says Noud Spetgens, the company’s co-owner.
“Competition can be fierce, especially in Germany and Belgium. Nesco didn’t necessarily have to focus on organic farming. It was more of a coincidence when we merged with another company some time ago. But, we saw it could add value to our products. We not only have white and chestnut mushrooms. We’ve expanded our range to include portabello, Shiitake, oyster, and Eryngii mushrooms. That’s because there’s been more demand for these varieties from the market lately. These mushrooms are all 100% organic, of course”.
Noud believes the conventional market has to contend with matching market supply and demand well too. This is, however, even truer for organic mushrooms. “The market may still be growing, but when it comes to organic mushrooms, it’s saturated. If someone were to add a ten-ton load suddenly, we’ll all be in trouble. If supply is too high, the question becomes - will these products still provide added value? After all, we already pay €1.20/kg more for our compost than that used at regular nurseries. And, if there’s a surplus, you won’t make your money back.”
“There is now also an increased supply of organic mushrooms in Switzerland and Germany. These are from companies that can meet demand a little earlier than we can. That’s simply because they’re located closer to the sales channels. The local product trend also plays a role. Here at Nesco, we’re exploring new sales markets. France, for example, may be of interest to us in the future. That’s still an untapped market for organic mushrooms. But it’s also a market that’s very much focused on local French cultivation, the well-known ‘Produit de France’.”
The coronavirus pandemic recently made for good demand for organic mushrooms. “Our company’s sales proportions are 70% for retail and 20% for the hospitality industry. The remainder goes to the processing industry. In the first few months of the lockdown, there was much more demand. That continued until the beginning of August,” says Noud.
“After that, sales fell by 25-30%. But I hope that by September, we’ll have reached normal levels again. Besides sales, compost quality is now posing a challenge. This is more of an issue than usual. The warm weather means competing fungi have settled in the mushroom compost. That affects yields when we use that compost. We can easily get ten to 15% fewer mushrooms.”
Spetgens thinks the sector faces two main challenges - maintaining the balance in organic mushrooms’ supply and demand, and attracting good workers. “Staff shortages could become a major problem in the future. That’s why many growers are installing tilting beds. These allow for quicker harvesting and, so, increases labor productivity. Post-harvesting operations have, however, not yet been adjusted to this. That could cause a bottleneck in the whole process. That’s something we still need to look into,” Noud concludes.