Mushroom demand in the UK saw a large spike back in April when the country was in lockdown and people were cooking from scratch at home and despite dropping off a bit, sales remain strong.
“During lock down in April we saw an increase in retail sales of 30%,” explains James Meers, Commercial Director at G’s Fresh. “Although it has dropped off now, we are still seeing an increase of 15%. This is offset a bit by lower food service demand but there is definitely growth in the industry.
The situation in the UK is changing frequently at the moment, with more local lockdowns being announced which is affecting the demand from food service, but people are still doing more cooking at home than before the pandemic started.
“Another factor in the increased demand is a continued move to vegetarianism or people simply having meat free days. The mushroom is a great meat replacement and where we would normally see a drop off in sales in the summer this did not happen this year.”
The supply has also been a bit up and down this year as the lockdowns in Europe have an affect to the supply to the UK.
As in many industries labour has been a challenge and with Brexit looming James admits it will remain a challenge, unless agreements can be made.
Mushroom pickers do not require any formal qualifications, but it is complex, can be difficult to master, and takes approximately 12 weeks to learn. It has to be performed with a considerable degree of care and application of good judgement. We, as do others in the industry, recognise that our harvesting colleagues are extremely talented and skilled, but the points Based Immigration Policy does not recognise or seemingly value this type of expertise.
Based on average attrition and returner figures we will be over 200 people short by the end of 2021, over 50% of our workforce.
Over the last 20 years mushroom picking has exclusively been completed by eastern Europeans (historically on a sector-based scheme). Faced with fierce competition from Polish, Dutch and Irish mushroom imports access to non – UK labour provides a much-needed lifeline to the UK industry. British labour does not view mushroom picking as a desirable role and certainly not one which people would relocate or travel significant distance for. Mushroom farms are almost entirely rural based with limited or no access to large populations.
Unlike a lot of other perishable produce, mushrooms are successfully imported from outside of the UK e.g. from Poland where labour costs are lower and access to labour is permitted from outside EU. Without access to a reliable and effective workforce there is no doubt that the UK industry will be marginalised by imports, particularly from Poland and from the Republic of Ireland.
COVID has meant big investment for many companies in order to keep the workers safe and avoid an outbreak, with hundreds of workers arriving each morning this has been a challenge for G’s.
“In the tunnels it is relatively easy to spread the pickers out and we can stagger shifts, we have had to build screens and make changes to protect the packhouse workers. It is challenging to have 250 staff arriving for a shift and you also have to think about break times and accommodating them in the canteen. We have had to invest in a lot of new facilities, but when you think of the consequences of dealing with an outbreak and shutdown it is worth it.”
For more information:
+44 7584 516511