How a local mushroom farmer went from small-scale operation to employing 175 people, and supplying hundreds of stores around Gauteng
An entrepreneur has taken his Magaliesberg mushroom farm from a pipe dream to a burgeoning business that now employs 175 people, and supplies hundreds of stores with high quality local produce.
The business, called Tropical Mushrooms, was started by entrepreneur Peter Nyathi, and it delivers to the Shoprite Group’s Centurion distribution centre on a daily basis. From there, the mushrooms make their way onto shelves of more than 350 Shoprite and Checkers supermarkets throughout Gauteng.
Nyathi’s solo mushroom farming journey began as an employee for Denny Mushrooms, where his dreams of starting his own farm eventually led him to take a risk and go it alone. But Nyathi, who has a BSc Honours in Agricultural Economics and years of experience in the industry, initially struggled to get funding for his new business – and it was a deal with the Shoprite Group in 2016 that opened the first important doors.
“We started supplying to Shoprite and Checkers in 2016, and this opened the market for us. In every business you need access to a market, and I am very grateful to Shoprite for putting their faith in us,” says Nyathi.
Today, Nyathi proudly employs up to 175 people at a time, who work on variable contracts in line with the company’s fluctuating yields and peak times for picking mushrooms.
Although Nyathi has vast experience in the mushroom business, nothing could prepare him for Covid-19, and South Africa’s associated hard lockdowns which he says affected the business “dramatically”. The initial setbacks of small-scale customers shutting up shop was devastating, but the partnership with the Shoprite Group was once again crucial to keeping operations going.
“The businesses that closed were 50% of our customers, and we were only left with the big retailers,” he says. “We would have been at a complete standstill if they weren’t there. We were able to survive, and as businesses have re-opened – and business has now gone back to almost normal.”
Nyathi is unapologetically passionate about mushrooms, both their farming and eating, and he hopes more South Africans will continue sharing in his love for fungi.
“In South Africa we are still trailing far behind in terms of consumption relative to countries like Australia and the United States. It would be good to get people encouraged to eat healthy food, including mushrooms, and to reduce meat consumption and cholesterol,” he says.
Tropical Mushrooms are currently stocked in Checkers, Checkers Hypers, and Shoprite supermarkets throughout Gauteng, with a total of 364 stores supplying his fresh, high quality local produce directly to the public.