Global demand for luxury foods such as wagyu beef, bluefin tuna and caviar has plummeted into decline in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with thousands of restaurants shuttered.
The luxury food industry may be among the hardest affected because it depends heavily on restaurants and top hotels for ordering deluxe goods from caviar to champagne, because tight shutdown efforts to curb the epidemic ravage global economic activity. While some gourmet food manufacturers are specifically targeting customers to remain alive, some have been compelled to slash production since some goods have lost nearly half their value since the beginning of the year.
Jean-Marie Barillere, co-chairman of champagne producers’ lobby CIVC in France, said he hoped people would celebrate the easing of lockdown with a bottle of champagne, but expected a difficult end to the year. “This is really a period that looks like a war time,” he said.
Bookings data compiled by OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service, showed this year a decline of nearly 80 percent year-on-year in seated restaurants in the United States, UK , Germany, Canada , Australia, Ireland and Mexico. Restaurants is among the world’s hardest-hit industries
“People will not want to taste a Chateau Petrus wine, a lobster or caviar under a bell jar,” said Michel Berthommier, managing director of Caviar Perlita in southwestern France. “If you force people to eat in these conditions they will prefer going to fast foods.”
Premium foods was “one of the worst hit sectors worldwide”, said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at agriculture brokerage IKON Commodities in Sydney. He said he did not expect a prompt recovery given many countries were in recession. Falling demand has already taken a toll on the prices of luxury items.
In Tokyo, the price of top-quality wagyu beef cuts fell around 30% from a year ago, bluefin tuna – deemed the best in Japan – fell more than 40% during that period, while Shizuoka’s popular ‘Earl’s melons’ prices dropped 30%. Russia’s largest breeding sturgeon business-Russian Caviar Shop-meanwhile gave Beluga hybrid caviar a 30 per cent discount.
“Spring and summer are always low seasons for the caviar market, but if we compare this period with previous years, the sales in Russia are down 50%,” said the firm’s owner Alexander Novikov.
In France, caviar prices languished near historic lows, champagne sales tumbled, while foie gras producers have had to cut output to prop up prices. Cifog, a foie gras producers’ group, said restaurants account for 40% of total foie gras sales. “Mid-March it felt like the sky had fallen on us,” said Florian Boucherie, who produces 2 tonnes of foie gras per year in France.
To plug the yawning gap left by eateries, many high-end food producers are attempting to reach consumers directly via e-commerce platforms. Others are steering more produce onto supermarket shelves. “We are accelerating our supply of products into some of the world’s largest supermarkets, gourmet butchers and direct to consumers online,” said Hugh Killen, chief executive of Australia’s largest listed beef producer, Australian Agricultural Company.
In Japan, top sushi chefs pay 400,000 yen ($3,737.97) for 10kg of the best cuts of tuna compared to the 25,000 yen paid by supermarkets for 10kg of lower value cuts, said Yukitaka Yamaguchi, owner of Yamayuki tuna brokerage at Toyosu Market in Tokyo. He said “the best part of (the) tuna” was usually sold first to high-end sushi restaurants but when these closed the “harakami had nowhere to go.” They eventually started offering high-quality tuna to fish retailers and supermarkets. For now, Yamaguchi has had to park plans to retire as he has accumulated debt during the pandemic. “I had planned to retire when I turn 60, but that’s no longer possible,” he said.