The popularity of posh fish eggs means that Caviar sales are on the rise.

By Dan Gibson
Reporter for business

Image source, Getty Images
Caption for the image

Caviar sales have increased strongly in the last two years

The Covid lockdowns caused high-end restaurants all over the world to shut down. This was a disaster for global caviar producers.

If you add in the fact that cruise liners were unable to dock at port and glitzy events, it might seem like disaster for those selling wistful fish eggs.

However, the truth is very different. As the wealthy eat more caviar at home, online sales have exploded.

“I believe people in lockdown just wanted to be happy, so everybody spent money at home on caviar or at the restaurants. [when they were able to open again]Carla Sora is the general manager for Italy’s Agroittica Lomarda, Europe’s largest caviar farm.

Caviar is a type of salt-cured egg. Caviar is the salt-cured eggs many species of sturgeon fish. This was long considered a speciality. The Caspian Sea is now surrounded today by Russia, Kazakhstan Turkmenistan and Iran.

However, in 2006 severe overfishing in Caspian resulted in a global ban on all sales of wild caviar. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Switzerland enforces this prohibition.

This ban saw a huge increase in the number of people who grew sturgeon for caviar production. The ban resulted in almost all caviar legally sold worldwide being from farmed stock – sturgeon raised in man-made lakes or ponds.

This global farmed sturgeon industry was worth €750m ($848m; £640m) in 2019, according to the most recent figures from Norwegian firm Kontali, which monitors the worldwide fish farm sector. The European Union estimates that the global volume of caviar reached 380 tons in 2018 according to its latest figures.

Ms. Sora claims that AgroitticaLombarda sales increased last year. This was especially true in the US where they more than doubled.

Sterling Caviar USA, which owns four California farms and is the biggest caviar producer, reported that its 2021 sales rose 10%. Exmoor Caviar in the UK was the only sturgeon farmer and sold all its stock by 2020.

Maren Boe (Kontali analyst) says online sales “have been the saving grace for producers” since the arrival coronavirus pandemic.

Producers have been able sell caviar in smaller quantities to customers looking for luxury and caviar at home by selling them online as well as in retail shops.

Eugene Fernandez (owner of Sterling) claims that online sales increased by 60% in the last year. This was due to the launch of a new website on August. Fernandez believes that people are now more interested in caviar and want to consume it regularly.

He believes that the caviar market in the future will become less of a holiday product, and more regular.

Ms. Sora also stated that European and American producers have also benefited from lower caviar exports from China. China’s farms are responsible for 70% of the global production. China’s consumption of caviar in its domestic market has increased significantly over recent years. There may also have been some shortages as a result of the pandemic.

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Caviar is so pricey. At Exmoor, its cheapest tin costs £14, but that only gets you 10 grams – less than a teaspoon’s worth. By contrast, its most expensive costs £4,800 for one kilogram.

The fact that it takes female sturgeon a while to achieve egg-laying maturity is a major reason for the high price. The Siberian sturgeon is Exmoor’s main species. This takes four to five year. Agroittica Lombarda’s white sturgeon doesn’t lay eggs until 14 years of age.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is one of the critics of Sturgeon Farms. They argue that any kind of farming fish, including sturgeons, can be cruel because they are kept in a restricted space. The eggs are usually harvested before the females.

Sascha Camilli (Peta’s senior PR Coordinator) says that Aviar is not something anyone needs. Sturgeons on fish farms are often smashed together in order to swim in barren, crowded tanks. Or, they can be caught and polluted with waste products from thousands of other fish.

Caviar companies claim that while sturgeon meat may be eaten, farmed stock can help to boost critically endangered wild population, and that welfare should always be their top priority.

Kenneth Benning is Exmoor’s Chief Executive and says there are no guarantees that caviar will sell strongly despite recent boom. This is because economic uncertainty has greatly affected the demand for premium products like caviar.

“The truth is that disposable income does not exist.” [likely]He says that the UK will see a decrease in prices. “There’s a lot of people out there in the world who basically cannot justify spending £20 on a 10 gram tin.

We’ve had an uptrend, but that was purely from a marketing standpoint. It’s also about building loyal customers that will buy again the product.

Sterling, on the other hand, believes that there will be continued growth and plans to buy another 240 acres for expansion.

Fernandez states that “We’ll roll up five or fifteen more farms over the next three years, and then take the company private.” This sector will be hot for at least the next five- to ten years.

Exmoor’s future plans are even more advanced. It has applied for a patent to develop lab-grown caviar using sturgeon stem cell cells. Similar technology is being developed for tuna and other fish.

“With cellular Aquaculture, we believe that we can produce all the egg we need in less than 40 days,” states Mr Benning. We could easily meet excess demand if we had it.

We can make more caviar in a space of less than 300m2. You can supply the products if it’s possible. It’s not the same genetic material, and doesn’t require the killing or captivity of animals – that’s an easy decision.

Exmoor, which works with partners from Germany, Switzerland and Eastern Europe, plans to launch cell-cultivated caviar by 2023 if all goes according to plan.

This would mean that the farmed sturgeon market is dead. But Mr. Benning does not believe so. According to him, some people prefer natural caviar over lab-grown.


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