From idea to execution in two months: Accountant runs a mushroom farm that supplies her popular mushroom products business

The Covid-19 pandemic was a traumatic global event, bringing the whole world to a halt as a virus threatened humanity. But despite the many challenges the virus brought, the forced pause was a blessing in disguise for many people, who found the time to discover what was truly important to them.

For Grace Pascual-Holganza, the pandemic became a chance to finally launch the business she had set aside in 2018. 

Pascual-Holganza is the owner of MUMshroom, a company that sells products such as chips, patties, and sisig made from mushrooms cultivated on her family farm. “MUMshroom is like a baby because I’m a proud mom and accountant by profession, so to put emphasis on being a mom, I put ‘M’ in the word mushroom, so it’s MUMshroom,” she said.

Her interest in cultivating mushrooms began in 2018, when she got to try street food in Taiwan. “What stood out to me was mushrooms,” she shared. 

Pascual-Holganza wanted to start a mushroom business after a trip to Taiwan opened her eyes to the health and culinary possibilities of mushrooms.  (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

Aside from its taste, she appreciated mushrooms’ health properties and how they can be relatively easy to cultivate. She remembered that her family had a warehouse from a previous business sitting empty on their farm in Nueva Ecija, and she thought these would make perfect grow houses. 

She attended training sessions, bought about 3000 fruiting bags of white oyster mushrooms, and hired three full-time employees to man her farm. 

MUMshroom products use white oyster mushrooms that they grow themselves in Nueva Ecija.  (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

She balanced what was then a hobby with her full time job, visiting the farm every weekend to check on her growhouses and meet with the staff while also working with food technicians to develop her mushroom chips, her first product. 

Establishing a mushroom farm

At first, she would buy fruiting bags, grow the mushrooms from them, and turn the harvest into mushroom chips. But even then, Pascual-Holganza felt that the fruiting bags they were buying weren’t of the quality she required. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy because the flowers they yielded were, when I computed, as an accountant, not… meeting my expectations,” she said in Taglish.  

MUMshroom fruiting bags at an event.  (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

Each fruiting bag should ideally produce its weight in mushrooms over the course of its lifetime of four to five months. So a fruiting bag weighing one kilo should produce one kilo of mushrooms. “Unfortunately, the fruiting bags that I bought, they just stayed for two months, and only one or two flowers.” 

She also tried buying mushrooms from nearby farmers, but was dissatisfied with the uneven quality and lack of consistency in terms of supply, so she decided to produce her own. “…it happened during the pandemic that my demand is 10,000 chips but I can only produce 4,000 per month. With that, [I told myself that I should not rely on the local farmers. I should [grow] my own.”

It took two years of trial and error for Pascual-Holganza to get the fruiting bags to the quality she desired. “…my target is we should not go below 50,000 fruiting bags because of the demand that I [currently] have.” 

Grace Pascual-Holganza currently maintains 20k to 50k mushroom fruiting bags on her farm in Guimba, Nueva Ecija. (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

They harvest anywhere from 30 to 100 kilos a day depending on the number of orders needed. 

Seeking the help of experts

While she was securing her mushroom supply, Pascual-Holganza was also perfecting her product line. 

She utilized the contacts she made in one of her early jobs in a food manufacturing company to find consultants who could help her develop mushroom chips according to her specifications. 

Her biggest concern was that most mushroom chips in the market were fried, and she didn’t want to produce something like that. Taste was equally important, because customers weren’t going to buy a product that tasted bad, no matter how healthy it was.  “I want[ed] to come up [with] something healthier, something that my family can eat as well and I’m comfortable that my daughter can eat it as well,” she shared. “I contacted some friends and they linked me to some professionals who can make my flavorings.”

Grace Pascual-Holganza’s daughter at MUMshroom’s 1st branch. (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

Because she valued efficiency, she was able to launch Mumshoom mushroom chips by December 2018. “I visited Taiwan in October and then I introduced the 10 chips [at the] end of 2018 also.” 

Unfortunately, because she had a full time job, she wasn’t able to devote the time needed to make her passion project grow. However, she used this time to improve her products and production process. “When I started, I just sold it to friends and family members.”

Having learned the entire step by step process from planting and harvesting mushrooms up to  processing and packaging has been quite a journey for Pascual-Holganza. (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

When luck and perseverance meet

When the Covid-19  pandemic swept the world in 2020, Pascual-Holganza suddenly found the time to turn her hobby into a successful side business. When the country went into lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, she began to aggressively market her chips on social media. It was the perfect time to do so because everyone was rightfully forced to stay home, and everyone was looking for different ways to experience the world, including searching for new things to eat. 

Many people bought the chips, but sales really picked up when celebrity couple Derek Ramsey and Ellen Adarna included MUMshroom mushroom chips in their giveaway bag during their highly publicized wedding. “…I post[ed] a lot on Facebook and Instagram, that’s where the celebrities notice my product. It started [in] 2021.”

Other celebrities followed suit, posting about how much they enjoyed the chips, giving MUMshroom free advertising. “That’s when our sales peaked.”

The brand now has a loyal clientele, though sales have been decreasing as pandemic protocols have been lifted and people have started going out again. “[I] realized that people, it’s not a priority to buy chips. I’ve seen that, of course, for practicality, moms or family members… will prioritize [cooked dishes].”

This led her to develop a line of frozen mushroom-based dishes that include burger patties, dumplings, and empanada. “All vegan, no meat at all,” she said. “…it tastes like meat, especially if it’s farm produced, freshly harvested, [and] processed immediately, the taste is really, really good.”

MUMshroom’s products are mushroom chips, gourmet bottles in savory variants, chili garlic Mushroom paste, pickled mushroom, fritters/ kropek,  polvoron, as well as frozen products such as sisig, shanghai rolls/ lumpia, dumplings, burger patties and empanadas. All of MUMshroom’s products are suitable for vegans. (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

Overcoming challenges

All businesses encounter hurdles, and MUMshroom certainly had its fair share of interesting challenges. 

For example, while many new businesses struggle from a lack of demand, hers experience was the opposite. “The biggest challenge for me, fortunately, my brand was, in a way, being patronized by some celebrities. If celebrities boost your product, OMG the demand is really high and if you’re not prepared, there’s a lot of customers that get frustrated that they’re not getting their orders on time,” Pascual-Holganza shared.

She also experienced the realities of doing business, such as unscrupulous suppliers who would water their mushrooms to increase its weight before delivering it to her, only for her to realize that she had been cheated when the mushrooms were processed and they lost all the water weight. “That’s my disappointment, actually, with other farmers. Of course, as a newbie to the industry, I didn’t know that at first.”

All of these have become learning experiences. “Now I can manage my costs… I’m [self] reliant. As compared with them that they’re relying on other producers, I rely solely with my produce for now [so] I know the quality of my product,” she said. “[MUMshroom’s] target market is middle class [upwards] because of the price because it contains no preservatives at all. We don’t [use] flour. The process is actually dehydration and then baking. That’s [what] the celebrities [and] our other patrons like with our products. It’s different, unlike the other chips [that are] fried and coated with a lot of flour.”

READ: Farmer who makes mushroom products shares tips on professionalizing a farm business

Mumshroom currently has seven employees; five in Nueva Ecija and two in Manila. “It’s an indicator that I have to work hard because there are people who depend on me, and it’s so self-fulfilling that I was able to help their families with their needs especially since we came from the pandemic.”

Making MUMshroom a household name

Pascual-Holganza knows that a key to keeping MUMshroom relevant is through constant and creative marketing.​ This includes partnering with like-minded people and educating current and potential customers on the benefits of mushrooms, “because not everyone is aware of how mushrooms taste and the benefits of mushrooms to our body.”

MUMshroom products can be purchased through their social media accounts. Thye also have online stores in Lazada and Shoppee, as well as a stall in the Ortigas Market that is set up every Saturday along Emerald Avenue in Ortigas Center.

MUMshroom’s booth at the Ortigas Market, which runs every Saturday from 5am to 2pm.  (Grace Pascual-Holganza)

READ: A Saturday source of farm fresh products in Ortigas

Her family has been very supportive of her venture. For example, MUMshroom items can be bought in a branch of her husband’s family business. 

But Pascual-Holganza is just getting started. “My main project is to have my own mushroom burger store and restaurant,” she said. “You see, I already have sisig, patties, so I’m looking forward to coming up with more dishes made of mushrooms.” 

She’s also looking forward to developing more products and collaborating with professionals in different fields. “I want to professionalize things because I don’t want it’s like a sari-sari store,” she shared. “I want [to be like Cafe] Mary Grace, [which] started from a bazaar,” she said. “I just realized that a passion project can be a main source of income. It entails a lot of perseverance and hard work… Connections are important, especially if you’re building up a business.”

Developing MUMshroom has given Pascual-Holganza many unintended benefits that extend beyond the farm and store. “…as an accountant, you just focus on your job… but this one, I’ve become more flexible, before I’m an introvert, now I’m becoming an extrovert so I [am] able to express my insights, so I’ve got more opportunities. It’s the best experience I’m getting now.”

Photos courtesy of Grace Pascual-Holganza

What is your reaction?

In Love
Not Sure
Yvette Tan
Yvette Tan is Agriculture magazine's managing editor’s web editor. She is an award-winning writer who likes to eat, travel, and listen to stories about the strange and supernatural. She is dedicated to encouraging people to push for sustainable food sources and is an advocate of food security, food sovereignty, and the preservation of community foodways.

    You may also like

    Leave a reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *