view current print edition







Demand for Phillips Mushroom Farms’ organics growing at a rapid pace

Always at the top of its organic game, Phillips Mushroom Farms keeps its finger on the pulse of consumer trends, movements and lifestyle changes. The Kennett Square, PA-based company produces a full line of conventional mushrooms, and in recent years its focus has been strongly on organics. The company is always examining and developing new items that fill the strong and growing demand.

Added to its already extensive organic line, the company recently added 20-ounce packs of organic whites and organic browns.

“Sales of the smaller size packs, such as our eight-ounce white and brown organic mushrooms, continue to increase in demand,” said Kevin Donovan, national sales manager. “Offering these popular staples in a larger size to satisfy customer needs was our next natural step. Some markets that like these larger pack sizes have reached out to us requesting them.”

PhillipsOrg8ozWhiteCaps In addition to white and browns, in both caps and sliced options, Phillips Mushroom Farms’ organic line includes specialties such as Shiitake, Beech, Maitake, Royal Trumpet, Pom Poms and other varieties. Additionally, the company’s four-ounce Organic Gourmet Blend, a more recent addition to its line, consists of sliced Baby Bello, Shiitake and Yellow Oyster mushrooms. Sales on the item continually increase.

“Every mushroom variety Phillips Mushroom Farms cultivates conventionally can be cultivated organically, including all the specialty varieties,” noted Donovan. “We continue to see increased demand for all organic options. Our customers look to us to help them expand their organic mushroom offerings because they’re constantly aware of organic sales’ increases in their produce departments.”

He added that the surge in consumer concerns about eating healthier, awareness of the many ways mushrooms can be combined with proteins for dishes that are lower calorie and higher nutrition, along with increasing consumer knowledge that organics are grown without chemicals, is a win-win for organic mushrooms.

“Organic mushrooms meet all these criteria because they all represent the same type of customer,” said Donovan. “We give the Mushroom Council a lot of credit for its Blend initiative and for its ongoing efforts on behalf of mushroom growers.”

Phillips Mushroom Farms recently completed its new expansion at its Warwick, MD, facility. It is the second half of the third expansion at the facility — this time adding 80,000 square feet to its footprint.

“This third building is double the size of the first two expansions combined,” said Donovan. “Because of the increase in the demand, one of our three buildings is producing only organic mushrooms.”

The entire Maryland facility will produce about 750,000-pounds of mushrooms per week when it is in full production. The company, he added, is already working on plans for the next expansion to the facility, details of which will be announced in the future.

Despite the good news, Donovan said that like most produce categories, the mushroom industry continues to face challenges.

“Labor issues such as high turnover rates — and at times shortages — can be a problem,” he said. “Labor for harvesting and packing is especially difficult to nail down for the long term. It’s common for us to train supervisors for a year, and then suddenly they are moving on. It’s tough to get people to work weekends and put in extra time when the demand is there and extra money can be made. The economy is booming, and that means more jobs are available with less people are in the country to do them. We harvest all week, which means we also need people who will work on weekends. It’s an ongoing endeavor to keep our labor force at the level needed.”

He added that this situation has been ongoing for some time. All of Phillips Mushroom Farms’ employees are documented, and they all receive fair wages. But the U.S. has not increased the number of people it allows into the country to help fill the job voids.

The mushroom industry also continues to face challenges related to the cost of compost materials.

“Like everything, the cost of compost is based on supply and demand,” he said. “The price has nearly doubled this year because regions that produce straw and hay have experienced a lot of rain. Also, growers get more money growing corn and soy crops than they do growing compost materials. People are even bringing in compost from Canada because of the shortage of local resources.”

Compost shortages put a strain on profits, and it can reduce the quality of the mushrooms produced.

“Less mushrooms will be produced this summer, which is the result of the lower labor force as well as the lesser demand for mushrooms during hot weather,” said Donovan. “Demand is higher in the summer than it was years ago. Today people grill mushrooms and they use them in recipes that encourage mixing them with meat protein for a healthier, lower calorie and flavorful dish. But cool weather typically dictates the onset of strong and steady increases in sales.”