10 Things you need to know to have a profitable mushroom business in India
When we were starting our journey, we were completely new to the mushroom space and hardly knew anything about cultivating them. We took up mushroom cultivation because it seemed like something that could meet our goals- sustainable, profitable and scalable. If you want to know more about us and why we do what we do, please check out our About us page.
Our journey into the Indian mushroom cultivation space was far from smooth and had a lot of ups and downs. The important thing is that we made it this far and have figured out a lot of interesting things on the way which would have saved us a lot of time, effort and money if we knew it earlier.
This blog post is our way of passing on some important bits and pieces of information that we have acquired in our journey so that beginners don’t have to go through all the trouble we did.
Choose your mushroom well
Each mushroom comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, some are easy to grow and grow really fast, others can fetch you a lot more money but they might be quite challenging and expensive to cultivate. You have to ask yourself a few questions which will help you find the mushrooms best suited to your requirements. Here are some questions that you can think about:
- How much time and money am I willing to invest in this business?
- How long can I wait before each harvest?
- Which mushrooms are best suited for the climate around me?
- Do I want to grow mushrooms seasonally or throughout the year?
- Can I find the raw materials required to grow the mushrooms around me in an economical way?
Mushrooms are not just what you see in the supermarket, they are also ingredients in various different industries such as food and beverage industry, nutraceuticals and functional foods, personal care, retail etc and are consumed in different forms – whole dry mushrooms, dry mushroom powder, fresh mushrooms, mushroom extract etc. When choosing your mushroom, you also need an understanding of where all it can be used and in what all forms.
Most trainers and courses will recommend Oyster mushrooms as a good mushroom to start with. They are not wrong but they aren’t completely right either. Yes, Oyster mushrooms are really easy to grow and they are quite forgiving of our mistakes. If you dig deeper, you will find that they have a really short shelf-life of 2-3 days from harvest. To make matters worse you will also realize that there is hardly any demand for them in the Hotels/Restaurants/Café sector because of their unpopularity among Indians. All the above factors make oyster mushrooms a not-so-good candidate for large-scale farms. You might be tempted to grow Button mushrooms because the demand for them is high but you cannot cultivate them without a climate-controlled setup (unless your local weather conditions are suitable) since they need temperatures between 16-19 degrees Celsius for it to fruit. So, please consider all angles before you choose which mushrooms to grow. Don’t just follow trends, take time to understand what has demand in your area and what can be grown easily.
Understand the market
Once you have chosen which mushroom to cultivate, you have to study the local market for the same in-depth. You will have to find out before-hand which are the industries and channels that are currently using your mushroom and at what volumes and at what price. Try and talk to others in the same business if possible, to understand challenges that they might have faced. Make sure that you factor in things like ease of transportation and cost of packaging while you choose which channels to focus on. Understanding the market also means understanding the pain-points of the existing market so that you are better equipped at dealing with them. This step is very critical to ensure you succeed because without understanding the market you will not know how to position yourself or how to market your finished product.
Develop your own market
After you have done an in-depth study of the market, you have all your facts and figures ready. Some questions to ponder at this stage are:
- Which segments of the market can you realistically satisfy?
- What can you do to make your product stand out from the local competition?
- Some retailers require you to give them a fixed quantity on a daily basis, can your production meet those demands?
- What resources do you need to satisfy the capacity you have settled on?
Remember, you can always start small and scale up. For example: to get a feel of the fresh mushroom market start by selling to close friends and family or to your neighbors, to create your own loyal client base. You could even drop off samples at restaurants nearby and ask the chefs to give your mushrooms a try. Figure out what matters most to them (The freshness? Value for money? Packaging? Aesthetics?) and in the process learn how to best satisfy your customer. The easiest strategy would be to work with a few customers in such a way that you have forward orders for your harvest. You are ensuring that you have a ready market for your produce so that you can put all your energy and attention into cultivating high quality mushrooms in a way that your customers love them.
Get the right training
This step is extremely crucial and the step which we here at Nuvedo had a hard time with. When we were starting out, we could hardly find any courses (both online and offline) which seemed legitimate. The courses were either too basic and lacked scientific explanation behind the processes involved or promised far too much to seem realistic – like lifetime support on cultivation and timely updates on technical advancements in cultivation for a fee of INR 750? I don’t think so!
In our experience, we found that a lot of trainers were ex-mushroom cultivators themselves but turned away from cultivation and towards training because it was more lucrative. I don’t think that this is a good sign. If you’re getting trained make sure that it is under someone who either has a successful mushroom cultivation up and running or from a reputed consultant with a proven track record. We here at Nuvedo offer multiple avenues for different experience levels and requirements- starting from our DIY Mushroom growing kit for beginners to advance hands-on courses for specific mushrooms. Check out our Workshops section to stay up to date with our latest in-person workshops..
Have a trusted vendor for spawn and raw materials
Once you have had some basic training and experience growing your first batch of mushrooms, you need to figure out how to get quality inputs for cultivation. The most critical input in ensuring you get a profitable yield is having good and reliable spawn. Without good spawn, you are bound to fail. You have two options: either 1) make your own spawn, which is time consuming and involves considerable effort or 2) buy it from a vendor, which might be a bit risky. When looking for vendors, make sure you find vendors who give you at least generation 2 spawn and have a hygienic and standardized setup with documented results. In India, getting high quality spawn can be a challenge because of lack of regulations or standards in the industry. If you want to ensure that what you’re paying for is of the quality that they promise, you can go through our in-depth blog on spawn. We here at Nuvedo have our own super spawn- NuvoSpawn, which is manufactured in our lab using the latest technology and best quality ingredients. We have documented the conditions in which our spawn performs best, so that you can get best yields each and every time. To know more about what spawn is and how it is used please visit our Spawn FAQ.
Apart from spawn, ensure that you have a steady source of substrate material that is available locally and at a cost that makes sense for your profitability goals. Different substrates can have varying effects on yield and quality of the mushrooms that you grow. If you want to know more about the effect that different substrates and techniques can have on your yield and quality, do check out our DIY Mushroom Growing Kit. As part of the kit, we provide an information pamphlet with various different substrate recipes along with a table to track your progress. The pamphlet contains basic definitions and even some formulas to calculate biological efficiency, hydration etc.
Prepare yourself for failure
Making one grow bag of Oyster mushrooms during training doesn’t prepare you well enough for the challenges that you will face while handling a bigger operation. Most people fail in the beginning when they try cultivating mushrooms at a commercial scale because there are too many variables involved and it is extremely hard to standardize the whole process. So, make sure that you are mentally prepared to accept failure. Your strategy should be- fail small and fail fast, so that you learn from your mistakes quickly and they don’t cost you so much money. You have to ensure that you document every single step so that you have evidence of what worked and what did not. This will allow you to finetune your entire process and develop standard operating procedures for each step. Standardizing your process and steps involved is critical to ensure that you can reproduce your results every time.
Start Small and scale up
Your trainers or consultants might tempt you to go for a 100 Ton setup and you might be tempted to do so after your successful oyster grow but always start small. Start at a capacity where you are confident that you have a ready market for whatever it is that you produce. Once you have mastered the art of cultivating at a small or intermediate capacity then you can confidently invest money in the right places to increase your capacity and scale up production. Remember, selling mushrooms can be harder than growing them, so ensure that you have a ready market before you decide to scale up production. Starting small will allow you to make changes to your layout or process flow without incurring large losses.
Build a larger ecosystem of cultivators in your area
Like any other business, mushroom cultivation can fall prey to a lot of issues which can affect your turnover. Drastic changes in weather, contaminated spawn, equipment failure, labor shortage etc. can negatively impact your business. This is why it is important for you to ensure that you have a network of mushroom cultivators in your locality who can help you in case of emergencies like equipment failure or loss of cultures due to contamination etc. We at Nuvedo take pride in saying that we work closely with all our community members in ensuring that they succeed. Nuvedo gives its network of cultivators access to documented cultivation techniques, new advancements in cultivation technologies and also a list of our trusted vendors across the mushroom cultivation ecosystem. Nuvedo also has a group of highly trained and experienced professionals who help our customers troubleshoot and get the best possible output from their cultivation unit. We cannot thank our community members enough for all the support they’ve provided us on our journey so far.
Think about other streams of revenue
Apart from just cultivating and selling fresh mushrooms it helps to have other streams of indirect revenue coming in. For example, dehydrating and maintaining an inventory of dried mushrooms, making value added products from your mushroom such as pickles, soup powders, cookies etc. These additional sources of income ensure that you can protect yourself from market disruptions and other influences beyond your control. In the hypothetical case that the price or demand for fresh mushrooms drops in your locality, you now have the option of drying them and using them in your value-added products. With India still reeling in the aftermath of the pandemic, it is critical now more than ever to diversify your business into multiple streams of revenue so that you can keep your business safe from external challenges.
Keep learning and share your knowledge
Mushroom cultivation is a fairly new space and there are lots of technological advancements being discovered on a daily basis. It is important to keep updating our knowledge on the latest developments in the field of fungiculture so that we can continuously improve the quality and output of our cultivation unit. It is equally important to share whatever knowledge we have with others in the mushroom ecosystem so that the whole community can develop and better serve the market. In today’s day and age the most successful companies keep much of their information open source as they know the importance that sharing the right knowledge can have on the larger business ecosystem. Investing time and resources in keeping yourself up to date and in innovation has a very large payoff in the long run. We here at Nuvedo, live by the philosophy “A thousand candles can be lit from the flame of one candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened” . So go on and spread the spores of knowledge far and wide so that at least some of them can fruit when the conditions are right.