Do you own a mushroom farm and you want to market it to restaurants? If YES, here are 9 useful tips on how to sell mushrooms to restaurants at a profit.
Although over 2,000 varieties of mushrooms are edible, only a handful are important in the American diet. The mushrooms most familiar to U.S. buyers are the “whites,” or common button Agaricus. Other varieties of Agaricus, the criminis and portabellas, are known as the “browns.”
According to reports, the United States produced 943 million pounds of mushrooms in 2016, down slightly from the previous season. The total value of the crop was $1.2 billion in 2016. The number of commercial mushroom growers was 347, a decrease of 11 growers from the previous season.
Mushroom farm businesses specialize in growing mushrooms. These mushrooms are used by customers for either medicinal or culinary purposes, depending on the type of mushroom growing. Additionally, they may be sold wholesale to clients or at retail prices.
Note that a mushroom farm business’ ideal customer is a restaurant that specializes in using locally sourced ingredients. These restaurants will have regular orders that provide stable income. A restaurant that specializes in serving locally sourced foods will be less likely to buy their mushrooms from a large supplier that’s in another state.
In the United States, you will find your products in demand if you provide great mushrooms and are the leader in your marketplace. But now is the time. You have to start and get in these locations before any new competitors come along.
Note that by dealing directly with a restaurant, you offer them real value. When restaurants deal with food distributors, the distributors add anywhere from 30-40% to the cost of the mushrooms. Not only are your products likely a little fresher but also you can provide that added value.
In the United States, specialty mushrooms normally retail for $16 per pound. Oyster mushrooms sell wholesale for between $6 and $8 per pound, and other types of specialty mushrooms have similar wholesale prices. A great farm operation can connect and sell $500 or more of products to a single restaurant each week. That means you would only need 10 successful restaurants to earn $5,000 a week in average sales.
Tips to Sell Mushrooms Successfully to Restaurants
A mushroom farm business that grows 12,000 pounds of mushrooms and only sells to restaurant clients could make between $72,000 and $96,000 annually. Since the ongoing expenses are minimal, most of this revenue would be profit.
If you are considering this option, here are some tips for making the farmer-restaurant connection for your mushroom business:
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1. Know Your Audience
You have to start by scanning your local food scene for hot restaurants. Are they sourcing locally? If so, how are they getting their produce? Most likely, they’re shopping at farmers’ markets and buying in bulk based on what’s in season.
Note that you can make their chore easier by helping restaurant chefs plan ahead based on the plans you’ll have laid out months in advance. If a restaurant isn’t yet sourcing locally, perhaps having a good setup garden can help get the manager over the fence.
2. Meet Local Restaurant Owners
Have it in mind that one of the best ways to meet your future customers is to get involved in your local food community. Take time to find out what events your favorite restaurant chefs are attending and be sure to make an appearance at them.
Or better yet, volunteer. Invest your time or goods to a worthy cause with fellow food advocates, and you’ll soon be surrounded by like-minded people. Once you’re in the mix, keep riding the tide. You’ll find that most everyone will be happy to have you along for the ride.
3. Create a Plan
Make out time to sit down with your customers and walk through some catalogues and potential supply plans. Do not forget to come to the meeting prepared with a rough plan of action and an idea you think might set the restaurant apart from its competition. This can take a bit of research and planning, but it will also make you look serious and prepared for the task at hand.
4. Start Small, Grow Big
It is advisable you start small by focusing on one or two restaurants. Work through a couple of seasons and make sure you resolve all the kinks on a small scale before investing valuable time and money into your business. Restaurant owners and chefs have a reputation for being fickle and unreliable. By starting small, you limit your risk of getting burned by untrustworthy clientele.
5. Make It Interactive
Try as much as possible to involve local restaurants and their staff in your farming processes. Host an excursion day or a harvest day where the service staff and line cooks can visit the farm and learn more about where the mushrooms come from.
Depending on the farm’s facilities, hosting a harvest dinner or a “family meal” with the restaurant’s staff is a great way to build a lasting relationship. Note that doing so will endear you to your customers and create a lasting bond. Forming relationships and building trust keep your customers loyal and instill confidence in the sustainability of your business.
6. Be Time-Efficient
Note that when you’re working with a local restaurant, you should remember that everyone (especially chefs and restaurant owners) is very busy. Try not to waste time, and make sure to maximize the time you have. Ask the chef, owner, or food buyer what the best day and time during the week is for contacts and meetings.
Always be consistent about keeping to schedule regarding weekly orders. Keep diligent notes — it’s not cool to have to call a restaurant owner back because you’re not sure how many pounds of mushrooms they need. I’m addition, if your delivery is going to be late, the restaurant should be notified immediately and substitutions made, if necessary.
7. Maintain Many Relationships
Chefs with whom you establish a reliable relationship may move on, or a restaurant may change buyers. It is advisable you stay ahead of these changes by being on good terms with restaurant management, even if those managers are not the folks making the food purchasing decisions.
Having a good relationship with many people involved in running a restaurant means you won’t be forgotten if changes occur.
8. Keep It, Professional
Note that you will need to invoice consistently and on time for all deliveries. Your invoices should always look professional, and you need to keep excellent records. Also, consider investing in a logo that can be found on all correspondence between you and another business. Make sure packaging, if necessary, is top quality.
9. Don’t Ignore the Little Guys
Indeed local restaurants may pay a little more for your mushrooms, but that doesn’t mean smaller food venues and eateries can’t provide you with extra income. Note that getting on board with small restaurants can be as beneficial as selling to the big guys.
Best of all, small businesses tend to use word of mouth when discussing sellers they trust with other businesses, so you may score new buyers based on those relationships.
A mushroom farm can be started as a part-time business while working another job. Mushrooms require a little attention each day, but they aren’t too demanding, and they can be tended to at any time of the day or night. It’s easy to fit growing mushrooms around other obligations.
Just make sure your mushrooms are growing up healthy, that you’re selling them at the right places and you’ll be on your way to success.