Gourmet mushrooms, like oyster and shiitake, are a perfect year-round cash crop for small growers, because they can be grown indoors, produce six crops per year, and sell for over $10 per pound. While the growing part is not too difficult, many new growers are at a loss when it comes to figuring out where to sell their crop for top dollar. Your marketing goal should be to find year-round buyers so you can produce and sell your harvest all through the year. Here are six ways to market your gourmet mushroom crop:
As one mushroom grower put it, “The restaurant market is wide open for quality.” What’s the best way to get started selling your mushrooms to restaurants? Simple. Give them free samples. Sampling sells mushrooms, and chefs at the quality restaurants are always interested in finding fresh local foods to add to their menu, as “fresh local” is what the customers are asking for.
2. Grocery Stores.
One or two grocery stores can sell your entire harvest, especially when you’re just getting started. You want a grocery store that already carries an assortment of mushroom varieties, not just plain “button” mushrooms. “Upscale” grocers like these are likely to have the shoppers that will pay a premium price for gourmet mushrooms. Don’t worry if the grocery store already sells exotic mushrooms, as it’s fairly easy to convince the produce buyer that your fresh-picked local mushrooms will sell better and have less spoilage than mushrooms from a distant supplier.
3. Farmer’s Markets.
Farmer’s markets routinely draw big crowds eager to buy fresh locally grown food. In particular, people turn to farmer’s markets to find the foods, like gourmet mushrooms, that they can’t find at their local grocery store. Set up a booth or stand and start selling. If the spots at your local farmer’s market are all full, ask another grower if you can share their space, or sell your mushrooms at their stall.
4. Food Co-ops.
Food co-ops are a perfect retail outlet for oyster and shiitake mushrooms, as their members value healthy, fresh products, and are open to trying new foods. Approach them just like the grocery stores and restaurants, with free samples to show (and taste) how good your mushrooms are.
5. Dried Mushrooms.
For the less-than-perfect mushrooms that you don’t want to sell, consider drying them and packaging them in see-through bags for cooks, who love the flavor that gourmet mushrooms bring to soups and stews. All it takes is a good quality food dehydrator, like my favorite, the Excalibur.
6. Value-Added Food Products.
All mushroom growers will end up with mushrooms that may not be good enough for fresh sales to customers. The mushrooms may be too small, or have cosmetic defects that could turn off a customer. You could feed them to the chickens, or get creative! One of the best ways to turn those “reject” mushrooms into profits is to make value-added products that can be stored until sold. One imaginative Missouri mushroom grower has created several best-selling products that are sought after by local customers. They include:
Shiitake mushroom sauce. First, they saute the mushrooms, then slow simmer them with herbs and vegetables to make a concentrated cooking sauce.
Mushroom croutons, called “Croutakies,” made from shiitake chunks that can be sprinkled on salads or soups, much like regular croutons.
Shiitake and oyster mushroom growing kits. Spawn and sawdust mixed in a bag, ready to start producing fresh mushrooms for customers that want to try growing their own mushrooms.
Other value-added products that are best-sellers for many gourmet mushroom growers are pickled mushrooms, a gourmet delicacy that can bring 500% profit margins, and mushroom based seasonings, which carry a similar markup, and mushroom jerky, a popular snack for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
As you can see, there are quite a few ways to sell your gourmet mushroom crop to local consumers. If you are a people person, focus on retail sales, such as selling direct to consumers at the Saturday market, or to local restaurant chefs. Although you’ll spend more time marketing, you’ll get retail prices, which means you’ll be well compensated for your time. If you have limited time for marketing, focus on repeat buyers, such as grocery stores, and food co-ops, where you will get wholesale prices, but will spend less time selling. To discover all the secrets, tips and techniques for growing and marketing these two profitable mushrooms, read: Growing Gourmet Mushrooms For Profit.