Photos courtesy of back to the roots

When an easy-to-grow edible gets named one of 2019’s new ‘It’ vegetables by the New York Times, edible-minded ears should tune in. Never mind that these mushrooms aren’t technically vegetables — they’re fungi — but consumers are relishing them just the same. Among Pinterest’s 250 million monthly users, 2019’s top trends revealed that food-related mushroom searches were up 64%. With simple mushroom growing kits, your customers can enjoy homegrown indoor mushrooms while you elevate your IGC’s edible authority.

Four IGCs where mushroom kits matter

West Seattle Nursery carries large and small mushroom mini-farms of pearl and pink oyster mushrooms, opting for table-top and windowsill grow-kit specialists, Back to the Roots.
Photos courtesy of back to the roots

Consumer interest in mushrooms and mushroom growing has blossomed the past few years, but the idea of hyperlocal, homegrown musshrooms isn’t entirely new. Stein’s Garden & Home, with 16 Wisconsin locations, has carried mushroom growing kits during fall and winter since the 1970s.

Susan Cieslak, Stein’s marketing manager, says the kits are a natural garden center fit. “Stein’s continues to carry them as we have many repeat customers, new customers in the DIY market and the gift-giving consumer, and it can be a novelty item for growing and gift-giving,” she says.

Shoppers at Rail City Garden Center in Sparks, Nevada, have been buying mushroom growing kits for close to a decade — ever since owner Pawl Hollis added them to the IGC’s edible-focused mix. “I saw them and just said, ‘These are cool.’ That was it.” he says.

With hot Nevada summers that redefine “room temperature,” Hollis limits Rail City’s mushroom kit offerings to cooler fall and winter seasons, but he’s steadily expanded the kits he offers during those months. With a spin-off farmers market on site, Hollis says the kits accentuate Rail City’s focus on grow-your-own produce and local foods.

At West Seattle Nursery & Garden Center, gift and houseplant buyer Ingrid Nokes finds that mushroom kits dovetail perfectly with Pacific Northwest interests in indoor urban gardening and foraging for wild mushrooms and other foods.

Dimitri Gatanas
PHOTO COURTESY OF DIMITRI GATANAS

Nokes has been stocking mushroom kits year-round at the Washington state IGC for about 10 years.

Sales are strengthened by surging interest in home gardening and urban farming. Even so, the kit sales still peak with fourth quarter holiday sales. “It’s just a really cool gift to give somebody,” Nokes says.

New York City’s Urban Garden Center has wanted to carry mushroom kits for years, but Dimitri Gatanas, UGC’s director of marketing, says they didn’t “take the plunge” until April of this year. Unlike standard brick-and-mortar stores, the IGC’s main retail space is a greenhouse, which prompted concerns about how greenhouse watering might affect mushroom kits.

While the busy spring season offered some challenges, the kits passed the test. “From what we experienced, it is not a complicated product to store and sell,” Gatanas says. “You just need to educate your staff to be able to educate and promote this to our customer. This goes for any product that is either new or outside-the-box as far as garden center retailing goes.”

Simple DIY mushroom options your customers can enjoy

Oyster Kit Block from Far West Fungi
PHOTO COURTESY OF FAR WEST FUNGI

With unusual mushroom varieties popping up on restaurant menus, social media and in produce aisles, consumers want to grow their own. Responding to interest, many mushroom growers have expanded their offerings to include “ready-to-fruit” kits that make homegrown mushrooms simple and easy for indoor gardeners. With this growth, more varieties of mushroom kits have hit retail shelves.

While the kits and the mushrooms they produce vary significantly from vendor to vendor, they’re all designed to make the process as simple as can be. Kits typically come in a bag or box exterior that holds neatly bagged mushroom-growing media, which is often sawdust- or coffee-ground based.

At home on a tabletop or a pantry shelf, most indoor mushroom kits are as simple as open, water and watch them grow. With many kits, homegrown mushrooms are satisfying taste buds in as little as a week or two.

Pink Oyster Mini-Farm from Far West Fungi
Mushroom kits from Urban Garden Center
Portabellas from Rail City
Oyster kit from Far West Fungi
Fungi shiitake from Far West Fungi

At Rail City, Hollis started out with kits for common button mushrooms and portabellas, from a company called Mushroom Adventures. But a chance encounter with a grower at a San Joaquin Valley farmers market expanded his vision. He still offers the original kits, but he now carries more exotic mushroom kit varieties. Sourced from a San Francisco grower, Far West Fungi, the mini-farm kits span shiitakes, lion’s mane and colorful oyster mushrooms.

Urban Garden Center offers growing kits from a Canadian mushroom company, Homegrown Mushrooms (Champignons Maison), whose kit offerings include various oyster mushroom varieties as well as reishi and shiitakes.

West Seattle Nursery carries large and small mushroom mini-farms of pearl and pink oyster mushrooms, opting for table-top and windowsill grow-kit specialists, Back to the Roots.

Stein’s offerings include kits by a regional mushroom grower. Portabella kits are their top sellers, followed by white button mushrooms and oyster mushroom kits.

Front-line tips on mushroom kit merchandising

Pawl Hollis
PHOTO COURTESY OF RAIL CITY GARDEN CENTER

Finding just the right place for mushroom kits in your IGC may involve testing a few options and pivoting quickly when the busy spring season or holiday gift-giving time rolls around. West Seattle Nursery displays its mushroom growing kits alongside books on mushrooms, mushroom identification and mushroom foraging. Merchandising them alongside birding-related products has proven successful, too.

For maximum impact, follow Rail City’s lead. When the IGC’s fall supply arrives, Hollis immediately opens one of each variety and lets customers watch them grow. “They’re very simple. All the instructions are inside, and they look great,” he says. “Customers say, ‘This is cool! How do I do this?’” Stein’s seasonal mushroom kit sales begin in fall and peak with December gift-giving. Cieslak says the kits usually get point-of-sale positions near the registers, where impulse buys and gift-giving purchases ensue.

As a newcomer to mushroom kit sales, Urban Garden Center’s experience yields valuable tips. “It was difficult to find a proper setting for this item to sell. We decided to introduce it by our seed section,” Gatanas says. Though customers were curious, the kits seemed to get lost in the spring shuffle, but Gatanas doesn’t fault the product or the customers. “This actually may be a better product to push during the Christmas season, or even as a great winter offering since people are yearning to grow indoors while the weather is still cold outside,” he says.

For IGCs interested in mushroom kits, Gatanas advises thinking outside the box. And at Urban Garden Center, more mushroom kits are ahead.

“I think we need to embrace this product in a grander way. Our supplier is working with us to create a ‘natural’ display that will allow mushrooms to grow on a wall, sort of a like a green wall,” he says. The IGC also plans to reintroduce the product in “UGC eats,” a hybrid retail-coffee shop.

Back in Seattle, Nokes’ advice is succinct: “It’s just a no-brainer. The kits are a great way to teach kids where food comes from. They’re popular with children and adults. They’re simple, and it’s fun! People are going to be interested.”

The author is a freelance writer specializing in the horticulture industry and a frequent contributor to GIE Media publications. Reach her at jolene@lovesgarden.com.