Mushroom Strategy: Unearthing high-value alternatives for mushroom waste

  • 2021

  • Service
    Commercial Services

Designed In:


Partnering with Horticulture Innovation Australia and Australian mushroom growers, we demonstrated ways to reduce and/or increase the value of mushroom waste. Applying user-centred design, we researched opportunity spaces and developed/tested solutions — validating four initiatives, forecasting an annual positive impact of AUD$55m, and improving environmental outcomes for the industry.

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  • Australia produces ~250,000T of mushroom compost waste and 20,000T of fresh mushroom waste annually. For every 1kg of mushrooms harvested, up to 3kg of spent compost is left behind - considered unusable. Costs of producing virgin mushroom compost rise annually, while spent compost is reported to have zero/minimal value to growers. Fresh mushroom waste is created when stems are cut in preparation for retail sale. Growers want to reduce their environmental impact and increase their revenue. To make changes, they needed proof of technologies, processes, and business models that demonstrate the value of new solutions in their circumstances.

  • Together with Horticulture Innovation Australia and mushroom growers, our team designed a bespoke "methods toolbox" approach, utilising: agricultural value exchange maps; mushroom production and waste disposal maps; financial analysis; deep technology assessment; business model design; and, on-farm trials. After 100+ interviews with stakeholders, we identified various grower-types within the Australian mushroom industry, and understood their varied needs and drivers. Armed with in-depth insights and a network of key experts & growers, we embarked on a global search for solutions. Over 30 potential solutions were assessed against desirability, feasibility, viability and scalability criteria, with 4 solutions being recommended for immediate adoption.

  • Working side-by-side with mushroom growers, we validated four unique solutions, including a mushroom compost recycling plan; a compost pelletiser system for allowing easy storage and use of spent compost as an energy source; nutritious mushroom powder product using waste mushrooms; and, edible shelf-life extender for fresh mushrooms. Tailored specifically to farmers' needs, we demonstrated the solutions on-farm, proving the technical performance and business viability. These solutions will have a direct and measurable impact on business performance, literally converting waste to worth, and building towards a more sustainable and internationally competitive future for Australian mushroom growers.

  • Our goal was to create solutions that would practically benefit Australia's mushroom growers, with a high likelihood of adoption. Each formulated solution was assessed through four lenses: desirability, feasibility, viability and scalability, and involved ongoing consultation. A critical step to guide exploration was to first understand the consolidation and segmentation occuring in the Australian mushroom industry for the past 30 years. The number of growers has fallen from 140 to 40, with 3-4 dominant players who are highly automated and vertically integrated. Importantly, a small number of niche growers with different practices have remained. We used a library of industry publications, attendance at International trade fairs, connection with technology suppliers, academics, and 1:1 interviews with domestic growers to understand the differences in operations and business drivers. Our highly iterative, non-linear approach enabled us to provide verified proposals on the particulars of how solutions could work, and for whom. A critical objective of the engagement was to ensure that solutions were generated for all industry players. To test solution feasibility, we collaborated with volunteer growers, conducting on-farm trials, where they could assess and understand implications for themselves. Final recommendations were endorsed by growers, confirmed as financially and operationally actionable.