Global demand for premium foods like wagyu beef, bluefin tuna and caviar has plunged with thousands of restaurants shuttered and many economies sliding into recession amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As strict lockdown measures to contain the outbreak ravage global economic activity, the luxury food industry could be among the worst hit since it heavily relies on restaurants and top hotels for demand for deluxe items, from caviar to champagne.
While some gourmet food producers are selling to consumers directly to stay afloat, others have been forced to cut output as some products have lost nearly half their value since the start of the year.
Bookings data compiled by OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service, showed a near 80 percent year-on-year decline in seated diners at restaurants in the US, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Mexico this year.
People are also less likely to consume luxury foods when stuck at home in the middle of a health crisis and worried about their financial situation, or under clinical social distancing measures as eateries reopen.
Premium foods was one of the worst-hit sectors worldwide. Falling demand has already taken a toll on the prices of luxury items. In Tokyo, the price of top quality wagyu beef cuts has fallen about 30 percent from a year earlier. Bluefin tuna – considered the best in Japan – has dropped more than 40 percent over that period, while prices of the famed ‘Earl’s melons’ from Shizuoka have slumped 30 percent.
Russian Caviar House, Russia’s top sturgeon breeding company, meanwhile was offering a 30 percent discount for Beluga hybrid caviar. 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 percent of total foie gras sales.
To plug the deep gap left by eateries, many high-end food producers are attempting to reach consumers directly via e-commerce platforms. Others are steering more products onto supermarket shelves. But some vendors say selling to supermarkets is far less profitable than selling to high-end restaurants.
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. The best part of the tuna was usually sold first to high-end sushi restaurants, but when these closed, the harakami tuna had nowhere to go. They eventually started offering high-quality tuna to fish retailers and supermarkets.