The terrible trouble of the great truffle kerfuffle


November 19, 2019

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Happy Tuesday, y’all. It’s going to be a big week whether or not you’re at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s increasingly over-the-top conference. This year, the “conference” will feature President Obama, 40 French monks, a ban on red meat, Fleetwood Mac, a rented-out pro baseball stadium, and 170k attendees. In other news:

  • Truffle hunters are sleeping with one eye on their pigs.
  • Uber Work is testing a new (controversial) way to monetize gigs.
  • Chobani enters the oat milk market and takes a few big swigs.

Stay curious.

The Hustle Daily Email

When the going gets tough, the truffles quit growing…

And that issue is quickly mushrooming into a big problem for purveyors of the world’s fanciest fungus. 

The white truffle trade is a lucrative business. High quality white truffles are often worth twice their weight in gold… and a single white truffle recently sold for $133k at an auction in Italy. 

But sellers of these select ’shrooms have found that warming weather has made it harder to harvest their famed funghi. Now funghi fanatics are resorting to desperate measures to find solutions to their truffle kerfuffle.

So, what’s the deal with the truffle trade?

White truffles are so expensive because — unlike their slightly less expensive dark-colored cousins, which can be cultivated — they can only be foraged from the wild. 

And, to make matters even more challenging, white truffles only grow in the wild in very specific conditions.

White truffles grow almost exclusively among the roots of particular hardwood trees in one region of Italy, and they’re harvested between October and December by truffle-sniffing pigs (or dogs). 

And now, warm weather is ruining the truffle harvest

White truffles grow best in cool, moist conditions. But over the past few seasons, the weather in Italy has grown warmer… and the number of truffles unearthed each season by dogs and pigs has dwindled — making prices for the fungus even more humongous. 

According to a recent CNBC report, some of this year’s truffle harvest in Alba, Italy — the “white truffle capital of the world” — was “withered and dried out” due to warm weather.

White truffle prices, which were consistent at roughly $2.6k per pound between April and October, spiked to more than $4.4k this month.

Now truffle traders are desperate to protect their fancy funghi…

And in some cases these funghi fanatics are getting out of control. 

On the legitimate end of the spectrum, “truffle associations” work with landowners to preserve the truffles’ precious habitat. 

These groups pay landowners to preserve trees whose roots can grow truffles, and sometimes even strike deals to clear land for better truffle chances.

But, on the other hand, funghi fears have also led to crime. The highly secretive truffle trade is well-known for tax evasion… and worse. 

In 2014, The Atlantic reported that funghi feuds sometimes led mushroom maniacs to kill their competitors’ truffle-sniffing dogs with poisoned meatballs or hidden traps. 

Truffle bandits have also snuck onto private property to steal ’shrooms by the cover of night — and even robbed legitimate truffle hunters by impersonating police officers. In international markets, regulators have also found fungus fraud to be a problem.

So take good care, fellow fungus fans — it’s up to all of us to protect the fungus among us.

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The Hustle says…

The day you’ve been waiting for is finally here… the full Hustle Con agenda and speaker list is officially live! Check it out, pour it over, give it the ol’ glance, then pick your tickets up here.

“The most exciting new podcast in the startup world.” That’s what NY Times best-selling author Eric Ries has christened the Below The Line podcast, which recently featured our very own Sam “Slowly Becoming a Podcast Pro” Parr.

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Airbnb and Google get personal… sort of

Even the best algorithm can do only so much. Now big tech companies are leaning on the power of people to improve user experiences.

Here’s how two big tech players are courting consumers.

1. Airbnb teams up with top jocks for new Experiences

Yesterday, Airbnb announced it would sponsor the next 5 Olympics for $500m. As a tie-in to the deal, the company will let athletes sell personal experiences via Airbnb’s platform.

The International Olympic Committee prez said the deal will “enrich the Olympic experience of the spectator.” Perhaps more importantly, it will give cash-strapped athletes a revenue stream.

Mikel Thomas, a hurdler from Trinidad and Tobago who competed in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 games, said he would offer running outings through Airbnb Experiences… TBD how much Airbnb will let him charge to smoke you.

It’s an interesting effort to drum up goodwill as Airbnb faces criticism in several European countries for dodgy tax practices and contributing to housing shortages.

2. Google Maps to offer users a shot of influencer-dom

Google Maps is set to test a new feature that will let users follow top-ranked Local Guides to receive their recommendations. 

Launched in 2015, the Local Guides program awards points to users who post regular reviews and photographs of their experiences. Especially engaged users earn badges that let other users know they’re serious about going out… and photos of latte art. 

Up to this point, Google hasn’t done much to encourage users to interact with one another. But with a “community” of approximately 120m active users in 24k cities, going social might be a good move.

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What Else…

🚗 Uber Works is still going. But does Uber’s model work? The ride-sharing giant is testing out Uber Works — a platform for warehouse workers, restaurant workers, and other laborers — in Chicago. Meanwhile, critics argue Uber’s not properly supporting its other contract employees. 

🎄 Christmas creep is real. It’s not just stores trying to jump-start the holiday season earlier every year. Consumers are also shopping earlier: 40% of holiday shoppers and 51% of moms, who still do most holiday shopping, start buying before November. Meticulous millennials — who often shop with scrupulously organized spreadsheets — are also driving the increase in early sales.

🍼 The age of oat-gurt is here. Chobani, which became a business behemoth that does $1.5B in annual revenue by selling Greek yogurt made from cows’ milk, announced that it will launch an entire line of oat milk-based products in January. 

👩 California’s female board requirement is still controversial. A year after California passed a law requiring women on corporate boards, the initiative has shown signs of progress. But some companies facing the prospect have recently sued the state in defiance of the “women quota.” 

💅 Kylie is cashing out. Kylie Jenner, who’s (controversially) been called the “youngest self-made billionaire” by Forbes, just sold a 51% stake in Kylie Cosmetics to Coty, a beauty conglomerate that owns other brands like CoverGirl, for $600m. The deal values her company at $1.2B.

🍖 Don’t like turkey? You’re going to get screwed this Thanksgiving. Ham, Thanksgiving’s perennial consolation dish, is at its highest price in years because African swine fever has dented the supply of pig in China (don’t expect prices to fall in time for Christmas either).

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