Trends in the European mushroom industry
Europe has a long mushroom tradition. Collecting and pickling wild mushrooms is particularly popular in Eastern Europe, especially porcini (Boletus) mushrooms and chanterelles. Even today, most fresh wild mushrooms come onto the market from Eastern European countries. The production of mushrooms on an industrial scale started in the 1950s with the button mushroom. Around 180,000t/year of mushrooms are currently produced in Europe. The leading mushroom producing countries are the Netherlands, Poland and Germany.
The cultivation of other mushrooms started in the 1980s with oyster mushrooms, which quickly gained popularity. Italy was Europe's largest producer of oyster mushrooms at one point, with more than 30,000t/year, but was then passed up by Spain in the 2000s.
Commercial cultivation of shiitake also started in the 1980s. From the mid-1990s, growers began adding other exotics, especially king oyster mushrooms, (also called eringii). From the 2000s, exports of king oyster mushrooms from South Korea to Europe increased rapidly. The exports were fueled by a subsidy program from the South Korean government to support the mushroom industry there. In 2020, the annual exports to Europe were almost 8000t/year.
In the meantime, mushroom varieties such as shiitake, king oyster and other oyster mushrooms, which were once considered exotics, have arrived in the mainstream. These varieties were initially offered mainly at farmer markets and in organic retail stores, but today the large supermarket chains have also become aware of these specialties. Even if the white button mushroom is still much more dominant on the market in terms of quantity, exotics now represent an important sector of the industry.
Currently there are not enough sterilized wood based substrates on the market to meet the demand of all mushroom growers. However, in recent years large plants have been built in Holland and Switzerland. The market will continue to grow in the future and the hope is that there will be sufficient regional substrates to support this growth. It is ecologically unacceptable to import substrates from distant countries by sea freight. The ideal system converts the different local agricultural waste streams into substrates and then into mushrooms.
In contrast to vegetable growing, where e.g. 1 ton of tomato seedlings can yield 8-12 tons of tomatoes somewhere else, mushroom cultivation is exactly the opposite. Around 5 tons of substrate must be shipped over long distances so 1 ton of mushrooms can be harvested. Rising transport costs will continue to provide arguments for producing substrates locally in the future.
This trend is reinforced by the desire of many to be more careful with the earth's resources, which has fueled the belief that the production of meat is unsustainable. Among other things, this leads to an increasing number of people who want to eat vegan or at least vegetarian. Here the choice of mushroom is increasingly falling on the wood decaying varieties. This is because of, on the one hand, the health-promoting effects of a wide variety of ingredients as described in this Journal, but also because, unlike the production of button mushrooms, no animal manure from intensive animal husbandry, such as like horse manure and dry chicken manure, are used to produce these mushrooms. From this point of view exotic varieties are the only true vegan mushrooms.
At this year's MushroomDays industry event in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, the mood in the field of exotics was consistently positive. There have never been so many exhibitors from the exotic sector. In addition to the large substrate manufacturer CNC Exotics, two other new substrate manufacturers from Europe (Belgium and Estonia) also exhibited their products. Furthermore, compared to the last event in 2019, significantly more exhibitors from China (substrates+technology) and Japan were present. Especially in the field of specialty mushrooms there were more exhibitors than ever before. This underlines the need to provide more substrates from regional production. The trend towards a higher demand for mushrooms in the field of exotics continues unabated, as it has in recent years.
~Torsten Jonas, BioMycoTec GmbH,
His comments will also appear in the 2023 June issue of the Exotic Mushroom Journal