Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber

You are using software which is blocking our advertisements (adblocker).

As we provide the news for free, we are relying on revenues from our banners. So please disable your adblocker and reload the page to continue using this site.

Click here for a guide on disabling your adblocker.

Sign up for our daily Newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest news!

Subscribe I am already a subscriber

Exploring mushrooms as an emerging sector for CEA

"We can see innovation going in the white and brown mushroom space, where standardized approaches in farming are deployed, and putting robots to work," said Sean O'Connor, CEO of 4AG Robotics. Sean sees that the wooden farms are now at a lost cause, as it's hard to put new innovations in those rooms. "Whereas the aluminum Dutch rack units, if companies like us are able to scale, we're going to see the next wave of innovation in terms of technology adoption and a cost basis that changes in the mushroom space."

Moving into aluminum
What is the difference between the 'new style of mushroom farming' that is now entering CEA? The key distinguishing features are the shelving units and the way the farms are built, Sean explains. The American style is wood, whereas the others tend to go for the Dutch aluminum racks, which create uniformity in every room. Building their first V1 robot in 2019, 4AG Robotics has spent 19 million more dollars and four years longer to get to their ultimate mushroom-picking robot.

Highlighting the changes in the mushroom sector, Alex Corbacho, Partner at Paine Schwartz Partners said, "These things print money if well resourced," referring to mushrooms. A lack of understanding about how mushrooms are made led John to explain how various mushroom growers ended up at a high-tech CEA gathering. Joining the panel were Joe Weber, Founder & President of Four Star Mushrooms, Sean O'Connor, CEO of 4AG Robotics, John James Staniszewski, Founder & Co-Owner of Windy City Mushrooms, and Amir Karian, General Manager at Monterey Mushrooms.

Mushroom products are increasing. From mushroom-based leathers to mycelium-based alternative foods, to classic portabello mushrooms. However, Alex highlights that mushrooms were one of the original vertical ag setups. "Mushrooms are a very sustainable source of protein to grow, as it takes about 1 gallon (3.79 l) of water per one pound (0,45kg) of mushrooms. From a time and cultivating aspect there doesn't seem to be a more sustainable food product on the market," says John James Staniszewski, Founder and Co-Owner of Windy City Mushrooms.

"From a facility utilization standpoint, the number of cycles you get per year compared to tomatoes or cucumbers, it's quite fascinating as they cycle quickly. That also means that if things go wrong, they will go wrong very quickly," said Alex laughing.

The rise of alternative use of mushrooms
"The industry has essentially scientifically engineered a mushroom seed. Innovation happening on the genetic side, we're always looking at how to improve yield, flavor profile, density, the weight (given they're sold by the pound). The crocks of how to build IP around genetics, breeding the better mushroom," Amir says. Nutraceuticals in mushrooms are food that can be used as medicine, which is seen more often in the space.

There's now an explosion of the functional benefits of food and in this case, of mushroom species. Look at mushroom coffee which is seeing a huge increase, due to the convenience of consuming vital nutrients through the mushroom compounds." "Great opportunities in North America are the cultivation of specialty mushroom varieties," Joe adds.

Increase in retail presence
"Does the mushroom aisle in the supermarket look different in 5-10 years from now given the innovation that's going on right now?" Alex poses. Joe sees the Chicago supermarkets selling sixteen skews of two mushrooms, whereas the specialty mushrooms are about exotics only. "However the quality component that's aided by the locally growing, leading to a longer shelf life is going to allow supermarkets to be more comfortable bringing more exotic mushrooms on. However, it's a challenge to usurp the encumbrance."

Does that mean that they ask for a premium for the higher value? John thinks there is. As it's bringing in a new customer. Windy City Mushrooms is focusing on oyster- and lion's mane mushrooms as it's the 'most socially accepted ones' at the moment. Then, after that, they will be adding more varieties later as they "don't want to overwhelm the customer, as they often don't know how to cook them."

"The plant-based industry is using highly processed food that's not working for anyone. I think that the real emerging market is for products like fungitarian food, lion's mane patties, or alternative that you can keep shelf-stable or frozen that allow people to add it in as plant-functional alternatives," John remarked.

For more information:
Four Star Mushrooms

Windy City Mushroom

4Ag Robotics