Demand for mushroom to grow at 25% per annum

Mumbai, March 20 | Updated: Mar 21 2005, 05:30am hrs
The mushroom market in India is on the verge of undergoing a sea change due to the advent of multi-cuisine eateries and a flood of multinationals setting their shops in IT and other industrial sectors.

The annual demand for mushrooms that was around 5,000 tons in 2001 in the country has doubled to 10,000 tonne in 2004 and the demand is expected to grow at a good pace of 25% every year for many years to come.

The myth that mushrooms are not vegetarian is gradually fading and the acceptance of it as part of food is increasing.

Mushrooms, which were shunned by most of the Indian vegetarians, are becoming a favourite of the new generation. Mushrooms are gaining popularity due to inclination of the spending population to increasingly move towards Chinese, Italian and other western cuisines, which use mushrooms lavishly.

US is the largest producer and the largest consumer of mushrooms. Avondale, a town in the state of Pennsylvania USA, still boasts the board outside the office of American Mushroom Institute The Mushroom Capital of the world.

The total consumption of mushrooms in the US is around 8,00,000 tons out of which almost half is imported. The major exporters to US are China, Netherlands and India.

China and India have the strategic advantage of low cost labour and agro waste.

The mushroom industry in India is largely an export-oriented one as the domestic demand for mushrooms is very small. A major part of the produce is exported.

Over 35 players ventured into the business in early 90s, when there was a huge demand for mushrooms in overseas markets. Large scale dumping by the Chinese (who are the lowest cost manufacturers of mushrooms in the world) led to a crash in global mushroom prices in the mid 90s.

The American Mushroom Industry filed anti-dumping (AD) proceedings against the companies in China, India and Chile in 1998 and most of the Chinese companies were slapped with AD duties from 156% to 224% and Indian companies too were slapped with stiff AD duties.

Under the last determination for the year 2003-04, Agro Dutch was imposed 26% AD duty, while Himalya International escaped with (de minimis) i.e. zero AD duty for continuous two years.

Most of the Indian players found it unprofitable to export at the low prices and anti-dumping duties.

As a result, a large number of these mushroom-manufacturing units, which had sprung up on expectations of strong export earnings, were rendered unviable and closed down.

The two Indian units that survived in the international market are AgroDutch Foods & Himalya International.

There are a few other units like Premier foods Hyderabad and Weikfield Pune, which have sustained their productions on the demand from metro cities. The total capacity in the country is around 30,000 tons.

While Agro Dutch has successfully survived acute competition by economies of scale, Himalya International survived due to continuous innovation and by diversifying in value-added mushroom products.

Manmohan Malik, managing director, HIL, The company is a pioneer in the exports of IQF mushrooms and vegetables. With its own mushroom cultivation in backward hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, it has provided employment to 450 poor persons, mostly women.

Himalya International has been the restless crusader and has survived on the strength of sheer dynamism and power of innovation. It has hopped quickly from canned mushrooms to IQF mushrooms to a mix of frozen mushrooms for burgers to cheese stuffed mushrooms in the category of hors d vours and appetizers. It is the first company to have introduced mushroom-stuffed samosa in the US market. It also plans to launch frozen mushroom soup later this year, he added. Mushrooms have aroused our interest since times immemorial, not just because of their diversity of form and colour or their sudden and mysterious way of popping up in the countryside. A more important reason has been their wide range of properties-from poisonous to beneficial- and their edibility. On the beneficial side, mushrooms have been taken as mystical food with anti-ageing; anti-cancer and anti-AIDS properties.

Mushrooms are rich in certain rare minerals and vitamins essential for good health and longevity of life.

They are the best source of high-class proteins, especially for vegetarians. Mushrooms are as much veggie as milk and cheese though texture is meaty.

Mushrooms belong to class fungi and do not produce their food from sunlight and thus, lack chlorophyll and are not green in color.