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Current Position:Home » News » Agri & Animal Products » Topic

Picking mushrooms to order for fresher product

Zoom in font  Zoom out font Published: 2018-10-25  Views: 174
Core Tip: The warm, dry summer can be seen reflected in the production of fresh mushrooms.
The warm, dry summer can be seen reflected in the production of fresh mushrooms. Although there’s some rain during this interview, it’s too little to remedy the dry weather. In a small office between the growth chambers, Ingrid and Iris Veeke of Veeke Paddenstoelen take some time to talk about the family company. According to the Dutch mushroom growers, speed is necessary to get the mushrooms to the customers as fresh as possible.
“Normally we have five picking days, but because of the warm weather, the mushrooms grew quicker, and we only had four picking days,” Ingrid says about the impact of the warm weather on the production. Although the climate is controlled in the growth chambers, the mushrooms are still affected by the weather outside. “We use outside air to refresh the air in the growth chambers, so the outdoor temperatures influence the production.” The mushrooms grew quickly thanks to temperatures sometimes reaching 40 degrees Celsius this summer. This has consequences particularly for the white mushrooms.
Mushrooms coloured by heat
“The white mushrooms are less equipped to handle high temperatures than other varieties,” Iris says. When the white mushrooms come into contact with the summery temperatures outside of the chambers, the pearly white mushrooms turn brown. “Their colour changes right away, but they still have to be loaded and unloaded,” Iris explains the challenge. “Once a white mushroom’s colour has changed, it won’t meet requirements anymore, but it will still taste good.”

Not enough rain has fallen yet to compensate for shortages, despite the rain during the interview and the following days. The dry weather can affect the supply of straw, a material for the compost. “The quality of the compost used to grow the mushrooms hasn’t been optimal for some months now,” Ingrid says. “If quality of the materials isn’t optimal, it causes problems in the production.”

Blue punnet, white mushrooms

The traditional blue punnet is still the packaging used most often for mushrooms. “The blue punnet with the white mushrooms has been completely integrated with the consumers,” Iris says. Ingrid adds: “We’re trying to find a more sustainable alternative, but it isn’t easy.” The available alternatives come with an increase in production costs that is so high it’s not an interesting option. Sustainability is more than just the packaging, though, so the family is looking for sustainable solutions for all company parts. “We’re also working on making our fleet of cars more sustainable by switching to electric cars,” Ingrid continues. “Sustainability is important if we want to give the next generation a chance.”

The Veeke family is synonymous with the production of mushrooms. In 1963, Ingrid’s in-laws started producing white mushrooms. This company grew to 12 growth chambers of 180 square metres. “My husband Mart started working here when he was 16,” she says. The mushrooms were manually picked at the parental company, but Mart saw more of a future in the automated harvest. In 1990, Mart and Ingrid started their own nursery in Standdaarbuiten. The new company started with three growth chambers with a surface of 500 square metres and an automated harvest. In 1994, another three cells were constructed, and just before the turn of the century, eight more were taken into use.

Back to manually picking
“We’ve always used beds of 1.34 metres wide, so that we could return to manually harvesting from mechanically harvesting,” Ingrid says. That moment came in 2003. The factory that bought the mushrooms, decided to stop production in the summer. Besides, this customer moved from Yerseke to Kesteren, so that the transport times from Standdaarbuiten became longer, which increased cost price. Because the municipality wouldn’t allow another expansion, Mart and Ingrid decided to manually pick the mushrooms. “This offers more opportunities in sales towards the fresh market,” Ingrid explains. “Because of this, we became an interesting party to traders to work with.”

At first, only white mushrooms were grown, but after a while, customers also started asking for other varieties of mushrooms. Currently, Veeke Paddenstoelen has chestnut mushrooms, portobello, oyster mushrooms and shiitake in their range, in addition to the white mushrooms. At the Standdaarbuiten site, only the white and the chestnut mushrooms are grown. “We rent cells from the parental company where we grow shiitake,” Iris says. The grower in Hoogerheide who supplied the oyster mushrooms stopped the production a few years ago. The six growth chambers were taken over by the Veeke family.

Speed crucial to freshness
That Veeke Paddenstoelen is a family company becomes clear when the grandparents come in for a cup of coffee. The staff, coming from Poland and Romania, can also be considered family up to a certain extent. “We employ a permanent group of permanent workers,” Ingrid says. “Some of them have been working for us since 2002.” In recent years, it became necessary to look for younger workers, because part of the workers reached the age of retirement.

The family takes care of sales themselves. They think it’s important. Not just because the Veeke family is a bit too self-willed to be completely dependent on one buyer, but also because it keeps them alert for changes in the sector. “We’re working more and more focused on the customer,” Iris says. Both in their clientele of wholesalers and of retailers. “For some customers, orders come in on punnet level.” That customer, a supplier of meal boxes, only buys the mushrooms that have actually been sold.

The orders have to be placed between 7 and half past seven in the morning. That’s when the pickers start, and they harvest the orders within several hour. The first batches have to be ready for the customers by 11 o’clock. If necessary, the mushrooms are packed or sliced. “That’s the way it should be,” Ingrid says. The supply chain has to be as short as possible to get the mushrooms to the consumers as fresh as possible, she argues. “The fresher the mushroom in the pan, the better.”

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