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Mother Earth continues to innovate

By
Tim Linden

In January, Mother Earth Mushrooms introduced a new exotic retail blend of mushroom varieties and in July it began exploring the concept of producing organic dried mushrooms and powders for the organic community.

Longtime industry veteran Mark Kreiner, who is outside sales coordinator for the company, indicated that the Pennsylvania firm is pulling out all the stops to help stimulate sales of mushrooms. “We are dipping our toes in the water for the dried mushrooms and powders,” he said. “We showed concepts at the Organic Produce Summit in Monterey that were well received.”

Kreiner said for old school produce folks like himself, using a mushroom in the old-fashioned way is good enough, but new generations are into different concepts and if sales can be advanced by offering new products and new ways to consume mushrooms that is what the company is going to do.

Mother Earth manages 53 growing houses throughout Chester County in Pennsylvania and is constantly tinkering with its varietal mix to meet demand. Kreiner said production of brown or Crimini mushrooms have increased in recent years and the company is also shifting some mushroom beds to exotic varieties as those sales are also doing well.

In past articles in The Produce News, Kreiner has opined that the brown mushroom will eventually become the industry leader overtaking the white button mushroom in total sales. He hasn’t backed down from that position but he said it will probably take longer than he expected.

Kreiner said the mushroom industry has come through a year of declining sales on the white mushrooms, which he believes was caused by higher retail prices. He said the cost of spawn, energy and labor rose significantly in 2022, causing retail prices to move higher. “We had a huge uptick (in sales and demand) when COVID hit,” Kreiner said. “Food equals health and mushrooms are considered a healthy food so consumption went up.”

Post-COVID, Kreiner said there has been an expected regression but it has caused demand issues. Kreiner further explained that mushrooms have always been considered an affordable item, but the higher input costs led to higher prices. “When prices get high, people trade down or minimize consumption. We saw some movement from organic to conventional and away from higher priced mixes.”

Kreiner also has noticed fewer mentions of mushrooms in print ads by retailers. Again, he reasoned that in an economy where everyone is tightening the belt, retailers began relying on some ad items that have higher margins and generate more velocity.

But as the pendulum is continually swinging, Kreiner’s expectation is for sales of mushrooms to start to increase again. “We are starting to see an uptick again,” he said, noting that the fall months through the holidays are typically the best consumption period for mushrooms. “But I think consumers are still watching their dollars. We are going to have to see how it plays out.”

But overall, Kreiner believes the mushroom category will see better days. He said mushrooms are an excellent commodity and the exotic varieties are especially loaded with good nutrition. “Lion’s Mane (an exotic variety that looks somewhat like its name) is the most nutritionally dense variety there is,” he said.

He added that the company’s new January introduction – Mother Harvest, a blend of Lion’s Mane, Royal Trumpet, Maitake and Oyster mushrooms – is doing fairly well. “It’s a slow climb but sales are increasing,” he said, adding that it is a high-ticket item compared to other mushroom offerings.

Kreiner also observed that the mushroom industry appears to be in a healthy state as there seems to be many new, smaller players. “It’s like the microbrewery industry which produces craft beers,” he said. “There seems to be a huge uptick of micro-farms growing exotics and selling them locally. The legacy companies are still in control and dominate sales but there are many more of these smaller companies.”

He added that rather than eating away at mushroom sales from the larger companies, these micro-farms help stimulate sales. “I think they are good for the industry,” Kreiner said. “What we all want is people to consumer more mushrooms and this helps. Mushrooms are the perfect food.”

When Kreiner was being interviewed in mid-July, he was in Florida attending a supermarket grand opening and continuing to drum up business for Mother Earth mushrooms. “I’m ramping up for Mushroom Month in September,” he said. “I create quality promotion programs and work with our distributors to increase sales. I love cross merchandising opportunities, like displaying mushrooms near the meat to serve with a steak barbecue or in the dairy case to use in an omelet.”

He reminded that Mother Earth has many different mushroom options but it is one of the clear leaders in organic mushrooms. “About 75 percent of our production is organic,” he said. “We are the oldest organic mushroom farm with a brand that is very well recognized at retail.”

He said that his marketing territory is very heavy toward the East Coast but it stretches west to Denver, CO and Texas. “I cover the whole eastern half of the United States. I’m an East Coast guy!”

Tim Linden

Tim Linden

About Tim Linden  |  email

Tim Linden grew up in a produce family as both his father and grandfather spent their business careers on the wholesale terminal markets in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Tim graduated from San Diego State University in 1974 with a degree in journalism. Shortly thereafter he began his career at The Packer where he stayed for eight years, leaving in 1983 to join Western Growers as editor of its monthly magazine. In 1986, Tim launched Champ Publishing as an agricultural publishing specialty company.

Today he is a contract publisher for several trade associations and writes extensively on all aspects of the produce business. He began writing for The Produce News in 1997, and currently wears the title of Editor at Large.

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