Springvale natural mushroom vendor Farming Fungi noticed its greatest month of gross sales in January 2020, however grocery retailer gross sales dropped by half within the second week of February.
The explanation was a marked shift in procuring habits. Many nervous about shopping for unwrapped produce, though the coronavirus is mostly transmitted via the air. The corporate, which sells Mousam Valley Mushrooms via Hannaford, Shaw’s and Entire Meals, was promoting bulk shiitake mushrooms at Entire Meals, however shoppers now not needed them.
“The most important single product that we bought via Entire Meals was bulk shiitake mushrooms,” he mentioned. That product was eradicated between a Monday and Thursday.
Farming Fungi needed to pivot rapidly to remain in enterprise. The 6-year-old firm obtained financing to purchase a packaging machine, employed extra employees and rapidly caught as much as demand for the mushrooms. It additionally arrange a web site the place it may promote to shoppers, on the identical time on-line grocery gross sales within the U.S. took off as many consumers shied away from in-store purchases. On-line grocery gross sales within the U.S. rose nearly $3 billion to $9.3 billion from March 2020 to March 2021, BrickMeetsClick.com estimated.
Farming Fungi was not alone. Maine Grains in Skowhegan had been promoting solely 10 p.c of its flour via retail when the pandemic started. That’s now at 50 p.c, together with a brand new contract with Hannaford and extra on-line gross sales. It benefited from the scarcity of flour from massive producers on grocery cabinets final spring. And Wyman’s, the legacy Maine firm recognized for frozen wild blueberries, arrange web site gross sales and diversified into shelf-stable merchandise that it may promote on to shoppers on-line, comparable to dried wild blueberries and powdered wild blueberries.
All three corporations noticed gross sales will increase in the course of the pandemic, and all three are rising their corporations utilizing companies supplied by the Maine Heart for Entrepreneurs, which has packages for startups and for mature corporations that wish to determine the easiest way to develop. The middle has info on authorities packages, academic instruments, knowledge on new markets, enterprise contacts in new areas, mentors and sources that corporations can use as they pivot or broaden product strains.
“The truth that the meals accelerators had been in place previous to the pandemic is fortuitous,” Janine Basaillon-Cary, MarketShare program supervisor on the middle, mentioned.
Clockwise from left: Jimbo Tuck feeds containers of Mousam Valley Mushrooms right into a machine robotically wrapping them in plastic at Farming Fungi in Springvale on Monday Might 3, 2021. Early within the pandemic, client demand for unwrapped mushrooms plummeted; Packs of Mousam Valley forest medley mushrooms roll out of an computerized wrapping machine in Springvale; Mousam Valley chestnut mushrooms develop in a moist room at Farming Fungi. Credit score: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
Wyman’s, which has 15,000 acres of untamed blueberries in Washington County and Canada, is utilizing the middle’s program for market analysis to assist determine 4 or 5 new frozen meals merchandise that it hopes to launch in retail shops by the tip of the yr, mentioned Patrick Carroll, vp of the Milbridge-based firm.
“The technique is to search out alternatives the place there hasn’t been plenty of innovation, comparable to in areas the place massive gamers aren’t defending a small a part of their enterprise,” he mentioned.
The web site, arrange in the course of the pandemic, is a giant a part of its general technique going ahead. It started to promote frozen fruit on dry ice on-line in the course of the pandemic and added new gadgets just like the wild blueberry powder, which is used to taste smoothies, and wild blueberry juice. Close by Whitney Wreaths turned its success middle for shelf-stable merchandise.
It may price $100,000 simply to get three flavors of a product on a grocery store shelf, and if it doesn’t promote, “you’re gonna get kicked out in a matter of months, so it’s a extremely huge gamble,” Carroll mentioned. Launching new merchandise on-line is an efficient option to perceive the market with much less threat and value, he added.
Wyman’s, which started in 1874 as a fish cannery, additionally began promoting yogurt and banana puree fruit cups with chunks of fruit final yr via main supermarkets and retailers together with Goal and Walmart. It’s a part of the corporate’s aggressive technique to double gross sales over the following 5 years. Present grocery retailer gross sales prime $100 million.
“It took us 150 years to get to the place we are actually, so doubling the enterprise in 5 years is fairly bold,” Carroll mentioned.
Wyman’s is making an attempt to get People to eat extra fruit, which inserts with modifications in client consuming and habits turning towards more healthy choices in the course of the pandemic. Sharood of Farming Fungi mentioned he’s seeing robust gross sales for packaged mushrooms, with 2020 ending as one of the best yr for the reason that firm began in 2014 at greater than $2 million in income.
Sharood mentioned that with extra folks cooking at house and experimenting with recipes, mushrooms are altering from a facet dish to extra of a predominant course. Mushrooms are a part of the higher pandemic demand for wholesome produce, he mentioned. Progressive Grocer estimates that produce gross sales reached $69.6 billion in 2020, an 11.4 p.c improve over the earlier yr.
“Individuals are meals in a different way than they did earlier than the pandemic and so they care extra for wholesome meals,” Sharood mentioned. “I believe that development will proceed.”
Maine blueberry grower Wyman’s arrange web site gross sales and diversified into shelf-stable merchandise, like blueberry juice and blueberry powder, and new merchandise, like frozen blueberry and Greek yogurt bites, as a option to climate the 2020 pandemic. Credit score: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
Farming Fungi operates in a complete of 25,000 sq. ft of house, together with develop rooms that it hopes to double in measurement this yr. Sharood has used the entrepreneur middle to widen his community of contacts and share info. Farming Fungi is contemplating value-added merchandise with companions, together with incorporating mushrooms into sausages, he mentioned.
Amber Lambke, president and co-owner of Maine Grains, is also trying into value-added merchandise comparable to breads that require solely an egg and liquid to make and seasoned farro and barley able to boil and eat.
The grain firm noticed gross sales rise rapidly early within the pandemic when flour was briefly provide and sourdough baking at house turned a development. At the moment final spring, solely 10 p.c of its enterprise was retail, with the remaining to bulk and eating places. Retail gross sales had been quickly half of Maine Grains’ enterprise. It began promoting extra merchandise on-line and noticed 20 orders per week rise to 180 a day to a backlog of three,000 orders. It discovered the least costly option to ship flour and employed extra employees to fill two shifts a day.
The grain firm additionally obtained three varieties of flour into 174 Hannaford supermarkets final month, which Lambke mentioned means plenty of its clients can discover its product extra simply and it will possibly add mainstream grocery consumers.
Maine Grains’ income was up 38 p.c in 2020, Lambke mentioned. To deal with the robust enterprise, Maine Grains has added extra equipment, together with a second millstone and a machine that may type out undesirable grains utilizing a digital eye and color-sorting know-how.
“We’ve continued to scale with new tools purchases,” Lambke mentioned. “I believe the shift to extra healthful meals and residential cooking goes to final.”
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