Mushroom Shortage, Among the Latest Consequences of the U.S. Labor Issueadmin
The unforeseen mushroom shortage is the latest labor-related issue to hit the foodservice industry, and this doesn’t bode well for restaurants.
With September widely known as National Mushroom Month, it’s no wonder that people are trying to fill up their plates with these delicious low-calorie, fat-free, and low-sodium goodies. Suitable even for the pickiest gluten-free fans, mushrooms have been on the rise as a sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to the nowadays controversial meat industry.
However, despite their outstanding versatility, the mushroom market isn’t exactly thriving at the moment. In fact, it’s facing a crisis like never before.
Restaurants everywhere have been wondering: what’s up with the mushroom shortage?
No Workers, no Gains: Labor Shortage to Blame for the Mushroom Shortage
According to the USDA Mushroom Report, mushroom production has taken a significant downturn:
”Agaricus mushroom volume of sales totaled 737 million pounds, down 7 percent from the 2019-2020 season. The value of the Agaricus crop was estimated at $998 million dollars, down 8 percent from a year ago. United States fresh market sales of Agaricus mushrooms totaled 671 million pounds, down 9 percent from the previous season.”
According to the same study, sales value for specialty mushrooms (like shiitake, oyster, and all other exotics) also went down 2 percent from the 2019-2020 season.
As the COVID-19 pandemic left more and more people unemployed, country-wide labor shortages led to mushroom growers experiencing difficulties in harvesting their produce.
But that is hardly news. For the past months, many businesses in the foodservice industry have been having a tough time finding workers. Worst of all, there is no solution in sight to the mushroom shortage.
As the industry slowly sinks under the weight of several other material shortages (oil, lumber, shipping costs), the equally unpleasant labor issue also persists. That is, fewer people are willing to harvest, store, transport, cook, or work in restaurants. And mushroom growers, small to large, are suffering from this.
Monterey Mushrooms told The Packer that 10-20% of production is left unharvested, as the mushroom industry is most likely missing over a million pounds a week. These are huge numbers, and the mushroom demand is on the rise.
Consequences for Restaurants
Restaurants all over the U.S. are reopening, while some aim to operate at full capacity. Yet, despite all that, the labor supply is very much out of synch with the growing (and very much expected) consumer demand.
Mushrooms also hold stronger and stronger at retail. Increased awareness about their health benefits encourages buyer demand (more and more people cook mushrooms home) and, naturally, the tendency carries over to foodservice menus. You’ll notice menu engineers paying attention to the customer demand for mushroom-based dishes.
However, growers simply cannot keep up with this trend. Prompt, frequent, and timely harvesting is critical in the mushroom industry, where crops grow faster than any other type of specialty produce. And mushroom crops quickly spoil if not met with immediate attention, which is precisely what goes on right now. The cause is obvious: mushroom growers work with just about 75% of the workforce needed to reap their crops.
As a result, restaurants are not only having a more challenging time finding mushrooms but may also notice prices rising or even a drop in overall freshness and quality.
The Mushroom Shortage is Here. What Can We Do About It?
We’re halfway across September, the National Mushroom Month, and a significant part of the nation’s mushroom crops have been left to perish.
However, some efforts to align the labor supply with consumer demand are underway. Most notably, the American Mushroom Institute (AMI) has been pushing for legislation and policies that can aid the mushroom industry.
For instance, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act is now awaiting introduction in the Senate. Once passed, the legislation will have the H-2A program (which allows agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring nonimmigrant foreign workers to the U.S.) include the mushroom industry. Currently, the latter lacks visa programs, which puts it at a considerable disadvantage compared to other types of produce industries.
With automated harvesting not only highly costly but also tricky with mushroom crops (where robots run the risk of ripping off entire beds), only worker bills and other forms of government support may alleviate the labor burden and address the ongoing mushroom shortage.
In the meantime, Riviera Produce continues to devote great efforts to securing a consistent, quality mushroom supply from our trustworthy growers.