(Jan. 15, 1:27 p.m.) Organics tend to be among the first victims hit by any recession, and organic mushrooms are no exception.

However, the category still continues to grow, sources said.

“It’s affected them a little bit, but there are more and more people coming on organically,” said Dylan Anderson, president of Oceanside, Calif.-based shipper Kinoko Co. “We’ll be able to see sales increase dramatically when the economy turns around.”

The San Jose, Calif.-based Mushroom Council said the economy hasn’t slowed the category’s growth by much.

“There is certainly a market for products like organic mushrooms,” said Laura Fries, a council spokeswoman.

Sales of organic mushrooms, from October 2007 to October 2008, increased 19% in the U.S., Fries said. Organic white mushrooms sales were up 5%, while organic brown mushroom sales were up 52%, she added.

“Clearly, brown mushroom sales are growing significantly and organic whites are growing at the same rate as the overall mushroom category,” Fries said. “Organic mushrooms accounted for 3% of overall mushroom sales.”

Joe Caldwell, vice president of Watsonville, Calif.-based Monterey Mushrooms Inc., said he had noticed growth in the category, particularly on the West Coast.

“But, we’ve seen that grow steady virtually everywhere,” he said. “Organic portabellas, whites, browns, exotics, we see it not as much in foodservice as retailer, but we’d expect it to grow there eventually.”

Still, he acknowledged, organics comprise only about 1 percent of the company’s total mushroom sales.

“But with the rate of growth, we continue to see that expand,” Caldwell said. “We’re increasing SKUs (stock-keeping units) in organic products, larger sizes, slices. We’re trying to help position this out at the store to support increase sales. I don’t think it’s going away. They still cost a little more to produce and the yields are lower, but the demand will continue to grow.”

Caldwell said he had not seen any negative effects the bad economy may have had on organic mushroom sales.

“We haven’t seen that yet,” he said. “It’s certainly possible, but as we’ve researched shoppers’ purchasing decisions, the people that look for org products, that’s one of their first choices. They buy it if it’s available. They look for them.”

But such an effect would not be a total surprise, said Kevin Donovan, sales manager for Avondale, Pa.-based Phillips Mushroom Inc.

“It does take a hit because the price point of the product,” he said. “It certainly does and a lot of people who were buying organics were people who were really hit by the economic situation.”

Gary Schroeder, president of Kennett Square, Pa.-based Oakshire Mushroom Farm Inc., said his company’s organic mushroom sales have been flat.

He quoted two statistics that back up his assessment.

“The USDA reports the number of mushrooms that are organically grown,” he said. “The second are the number of mushrooms sold, marketed and labeled as org to the consumer. There’s a pretty big gap between the two. That says many are sold conventionally. That number fell a couple of years ago.”

But, he said, that finding isn’t necessarily universal.

“There are some individual stores that have embraced it and are on the way up,” Schroeder said. “Others, maybe consumers are kind of pulling back and it’s soft in places.”

Greg Sagan, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Avondale, Pa.-based Modern Mushroom Farms, agreed that sales had been flat.

But, he added, his company is working to do something about it.

“We have chosen to make a more broad commitment, and in the fall of 2007 we became certified by Protected Harvest,” Sagan said. “This certification is an extension of our commitment to sustainable agricultural programs for future generations. More and more consumers are choosing products from companies that demonstrate a real commitment to the environment.”