What started as a hobby because of a fascination with exotic mushrooms and French Cuisine, has now turned into a profitable business.
The last guide on Growing Shiitake Mushrooms explains how my journey started with Shiitake Mushrooms. I loved eating mushrooms every day, and explored how to grow Shiitake mushrooms on my own homestead.
Now, though, since I have been doing this for a while and now am profiting from my one-time hobby, I’ll share with you how you too can scale-up and start making a little money from your efforts.
If you are brand new to shiitake growing, then I suggest you first take a look at the Guide to Getting Shiitake Done on the homestead as an introduction to this post. There, you’ll learn the basics of how to inoculate logs and maintain and fruit your logs. Also, if you just want to dabble and see if you even like growing mushrooms before you get too deep, then you may want to buy a shiitake mushroom kit or a pre-plugged log to try at home.
Then, if you are ready to take it further, deep dive into this post on how to sell shiitake mushrooms as a business.
How to Start a Shiitake Business
Starting a shiitake business is a bit more work upfront than say growing a few vegetables for the market. It can take a year or more to get your first mushroom.
Plus, although logs can yield 5 pounds or more of shiitake, they do most of it over a 2-3 year period. So, to get a decent weekly crop, you are going to need a lot of logs and a regular commitment to starting more.
Finally, just like starting any business, you’ll need to do research with your local, state, and federal regulators to find out the legal requirements to sell shiitake mushrooms where you live.
If you are up for doing all that work, then let me share a few secrets about how to make some profit selling shiitake.
4 Ways to Sell Your Mushrooms
Here are some potential avenues to consider where you can sell shiitake mushrooms.
1. Farmer’s Markets
Farmer’s markets can be a good outlet to sell shiitake mushrooms. You can typically charge about twice as much for nicely packaged mushrooms at a market then you can for bulk packaged mushrooms to a wholesale market. Prices can range from $12 – $20 in some areas.
Unfortunately, mushrooms have been a popular farmer’s market product for several years. As such, most well-established and high-earning farmer’s markets often already have a saturation of mushroom sellers. Also, at newer or lower-earning markets, it can be hard to charge full price for mushrooms and there may not be enough customer interest to sell out each week.
Markets also take up a lot of time between packing up your gear, setting up your stand, staying the duration of the event, and travel to and from. Your time spent and the special equipment needed like coolers, ice packs, signage, packaging, tables, umbrellas, gas, and more can cut into the potential profit from selling shiitake.
Still, if you already have a market stall for other reasons, such as selling crafts and vegetables, then adding mushrooms can be a great way to round out your product line-up and rack up some extra profit.
2. Sell Shiitake Mushrooms to Restaurants
Selling to restaurants is also another avenue for making money on shiitakes. If you live near some upscale restaurants committed to local food purchases, then you can even make a nice business just selling to restaurants.
Be aware though, it is much easier for chefs and purchasing managers to work with big distributors who can supply all their needs in one delivery and on one invoice. So, frankly, the kind of chefs and restaurant staff willing to work with local food producers do so for ethical and community-oriented reasons.
As such, you will need to invest some time developing a relationship such as by collaborating on community events to raise awareness about local food movements. Also, knowing that it already takes chefs longer to source locally, make sure to keep your commitments.
Deliver on time each week. Make sure you can fill orders before you accept them. In other words, go the extra mile on service to ensure the long-term success of your shiitake sales.
3. Wholesale to Distributors
Those first two methods are great for people who plan to spend a lot of time to develop a shiitake business. But if you are a homesteader, just trying to make a little extra cash by scaling up what you do for home food production, there’s another option.
Wholesaling to a distributor is one of the easiest ways to get your product out there without a lot of driving around to restaurants or days spent at markets. Distributors come in various forms. So you might have to do a little digging to find one near you.
– Food Hubs and Co-Ops
Big distributors such as those who work with supermarkets and chain restaurants often require larger quantities of goods than a small-scale producer can provide. However, thanks to the local food movement, there are now co-ops and food hubs that allow lots of small scale producers to aggregate their products and serve larger operations.
Check with your local agricultural or extension office to find out if there are any food hubs or co-ops offering shared selling power opportunities in your area.
Sometimes other mushroom retailers have more demand for shiitake than they can reasonably supply on a regular basis. Or, sometimes mushroom retailers stick to things that can be grown quickly in substrates like straw such as oyster or lion’s mane mushrooms. They may not grow shiitake on logs and might benefit from being able to add your shiitake to their line-up of faster-growing mushrooms.
By wholesaling to other local mushroom retailers who already have established clientele, you get the benefit of their network without having to do all the deliveries and relationship maintenance yourself. You will make less money per pound this way. Yet, it can still be more profitable when you factor in your time spent and other costs such as car maintenance, gas, stress, packaging, and more for markets or direct retail to restaurants.
4. Value Added Products
A final way to make money on shiitake is to produce value-added products. Dried shiitake mushrooms are hugely popular, as is shiitake powder, and shiitake seasoning mix. They all command high prices at farmer’s markets and through online retailers.
There tend to be more legal hurdles for selling packaged products. You may need an inspected kitchen. There are likely labeling requirements. Plus, you’ll usually be taxed at a higher rate for a prepared product than when selling a raw mushroom treated like produce.
The upside is that you don’t have to worry about your shiitakes going bad. Raw shiitakes only last a few weeks even when well-stored at about 40ºF in a moderate humidity space. By making dried products, you can store your shiitake much longer and reduce product loss. You can even use shiitakes that are less attractive in appearance in powders.
You can also focus your sales efforts on holidays when people are apt to spend more on luxury items instead of going to market every single week. If you don’t like to leave your house, try internet sales too. Just make sure you have the appropriate legal rights to sell shiitake mushrooms across the state or country lines before you commit felony crimes!