Source: eKapija | Thursday, 22.03.2018.| 15:11
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(AUREA 2018 AWARD NOMINATION): Ekofungi – Production of organic dehydrated vegetable mix

The Belgrade-based company Ekofungi developed and marketed a new product in 2017 – an organic dehydrated vegetable mix, based on a unique dehydration technology, which extracts moisture from the vegetables instead of drying them, thereby keeping their nutritive qualities.

The concept is based on the production of organic portobello mushrooms and the buyout of surplus organic vegetables from farmers in Serbia. By rehydrating the mix, in only 3-4 minutes, a 40 g pack produces half a kilogram of fresh vegetables that can be prepared by anyone, from vegans to gourmets.

The main requirement for the company's new investment was the implementation of the technology of organic production of edible mushrooms under the circular economy model, where the waste from extensive farms and organic farms is used as the basis for the creation of the substrate/compost for the production of organic portobello and oyster mushrooms.

Thanks to this model, cellulose waste from horse farms results in an organic product. After the production cycle is over, spent substrates go back to organic farms, where they are used for fertilization. Yields from these farms are then bought out by Ekofungi and dehydrated in its facility in Padinska Skela.

Ekofungi believes that the model of using agricultural production waste is not just a useful business model for them, but also an excellent example of development, which should be studied and implemented in small farms in Serbia.

At the moment, Ekofungi dehydrates 95% of fresh mushrooms produced, whereas only 5% are sent to bio-shops, restaurants and hotels – their clients of many year. The new product belongs to the premium food category and was recently presented at the biggest fruit and vegetable show, FRUIT LOGISTICA Berlin. They have already signed a contract with a Slovenian distributor on the sale in the European market.

INNOVATION

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Ekofungi is a local innovative company, whose concept of development and operations is based on constantly putting science to practice, that is, on the production of healthy, organic food for wide consumption.

Following its business philosophy, the Belgrade-based company has now developed a new range of products, having already mastered the technology of organic production of edible mushrooms under the circular economy model, where the waste from extensive farms and organic farms is used as the basis for the creation of the substrate/compost for the production of organic portobello and oyster mushrooms thanks to the innovative technology developed by Ekofungi's engineers.

This organic production of edible mushrooms is unique in the region and very rare in Europe and the world, and Ekofungi has gone a step further in finalizing the product, creating the conditions for the development of an entirely new, unique product in the world market – organic dehydrated vegetable mix – by investing in an innovative dehydrator.

The production is based on the dehydration process, which entails the extraction of moisture from food (not drying), using the air-conditioning system – cold air is pumped into a room in which the air has been heated to 35 degrees, drawing water from food, while keeping all the nutrients. After only 3-4 minutes of rehydration in water, a mix is produced containing 50% of organic portobello mushrooms, whereas the remaining content is made up of organic vegetables bought out from organic producers.

The product is light, nutritious and can be used by everyone, from vegans to gourmets. Mountain-climbers, campers and extreme sportsmen have proved to be a special target group. The difference compared to dried vegetables, in addition to having all the nutrients kept, is that each product maintains its color as well. The shelf life is dictated by the carrot, limiting it to 6 months.

A package weighs 40 grams, and rehydration produces half a kilogram of fresh vegetables. The oyster mushroom is packaged separately in a 20 g pack due to the fragility and the value of the product.

In order to meet the market demand, at the same time recognizing an opportunity for development of not just their own company, but of other organic vegetable producers in Serbia as well, Ekofungi has created several mushroom and vegetable-based mixes, offering a unique product, the likes of which don't exist anywhere else in the world.

Ekofungi has therefore protected its production model with a know-how model, believing it to be the most appropriate, where the Ekofungi trademark is in the process of being protected in the EU.

The product was presented in December 2017, when the certificate for the European market was obtained.

SOCIAL USEFULNESS


Ekofungi bases its philosophy on circular economy, confirming through its business model that there's no such thing as waste (from waste to taste), and that everything that is produced as waste in one process can be used as a raw material in another.

Through this model, cellulose waste from horse farms results in an organic product. The company first buys out compost and horse manure at the transportation and loading price and then gets compost from it through the method of aerobic fermentation. It then uses the compost in its plastic green houses as the substrate for the production of portobello mushrooms. Parallel to this, it buys out cellulose waste from organic producers of spelt, wheat, linseed and cannabis and then uses innovative, energy-saving technology to get the substrate for the cultivation of organic oyster mushrooms. The spent substrate is used in food for ruminants, whereas the spent compost from the process of growing portobello mushrooms is an excellent additive to the soil. It is further used by organic vegetable producers, from whom Ekofungi later buys out the raw materials it dehydrates. Everything produced in the cycle is thereby reused.

They don't, however, insist on the principles of circular economy just for the fact that secondary products from one production cycle are used as raw materials in another, but also because it's a circular (multiple) source of revenues. Ekofungi believes that the model of using agricultural production waste is not just a useful business model for them, but also an excellent example of development, which should be studied and implemented in small farms in Serbia. Such a model would employ a large number of households.

Furthermore, by marketing the new product – organic dehydrated vegetable mix, Ekofungi secures a so far vacant spot in the market for itself and all the farmers using organic technology. The concept is based on the buyout of surplus organic vegetables in Serbia, at the price farmers find suitable, thereby solving the problem of small producers' finding a place in the market and making their concept of development much more sustainable. Also, Ekofungi enables the farmers it cooperates with to market their organic products at values 5 times larger than they would by selling the ordinary product as a raw ingredient.

Ekofungi cooperates with all organic producers gathered within Serbia Organica, and the company emphasizes that the products are bought out at market prices exclusively and that the fact that this is a solution for surplus products is no reason to lower the prices.

Since its foundation, Ekofungi has based its operations on highly educated management and close cooperation with the science sector, and the company's business model has also caused interest among entrepreneurs worldwide. So for, over 250 trainees from all over the world have gone through the Ekofungi school, which the company organizes in its facility in Padinska Skela. Using the knowledge they acquired there, the attendees have started small business and are still promoters and ambassadors of Ekofungi's products and the company's associates-subcontractors.

FINANCIAL POTENTIAL

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The organic dehydrated vegetable mix belongs to the so-called premium food market. Guided by the idea that Serbia should be a country of small, expensive products, Ekofungi's aim is not quantity, but to meet the demands of the segment of consumers who appreciate quality food and are ready to pay the adequate price for it. This is also reflected in their agreement with the suppliers.

The new product appeared in the market in December 2017, when they obtained the certificate for the European market. It was recently presented at FRUIT LOGISTICA Berlin, and an exporting agreement has already been signed with a Slovenian distributor. Germany and Ireland are especially interested in the product.

Since the product is new in Europe and the world, they do not have direct competition in the market.

Ekofungi dehydrates 95% of fresh mushrooms produced, whereas only 5% are sent to bio-shops, restaurants and hotels – their clients of many year. The product has been certified for both the local and the European market (the difference is that, in the products for the EU, all ingredients also have to be EU-certified, which encourages producers to certify their organic production this way). The production is meant for export primarily, whereas a small portion can be found in organic food bio-shops in Serbia.

The current production capacity is 5,000 packs of 40 g a month, but the good market response has caused Ekofungi to consider procuring another dehydrator and expanding the production.

Since December 2016, the company has been organically producing edible mushrooms exclusively, and they now produce around 100 tons of fresh portobello mushrooms and 30 tons of oyster mushrooms a year.

Between 150,000 and 180,000 euros was invested in the development of the new, technologically innovative, idea and product – organic dehydrated vegetable mix, which they financed through their own know-how, the result of their previous innovations and projects and the operations of the Ekofungi School.

A 40 g pack costs EUR 3.5, whereas organic portobello mushrooms are sold at EUR 3 per kilogram.

If Ekofungi's organic dehydrated vegetable mix is your investment of the year favorite, you can vote for it on the official website of the Aurea award.
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