CAVIAR PRODUCTION AND MARKETS
Historic demand for caviar on traditional export markets (Europe, US, Japan, plus Russia, China etc.) can be assessed based on trade data from the 1980s and 1990s. The estimate accounts for an amount up to 3,000 t annually, deriving from about 30,000 t of sturgeons from fishery, mainly by the Soviet Union/Russia. At the beginning of years 2000 the production of sturgeons fron fishery was only some hundred tonne. Overfishing, poaching, barriers and channellizations, pollutions, Allee effect, interspecific competition with aliens species, some political events are the main reasons for the sturgeon population decline. CITES established quotas for export from the producing countries and introduce a labelling system for caviar.
As a consequence of the continuing high demand and good perspective for caviar markets, many investors and farmers started rearing sturgeons during the last 10 years, mainly for caviar production. Main activities have been in Russia, Iran, the European Union, China and the USA.
Besides these major producers and consumers, other entities in other countries show up on the scene (also outside the natural range of sturgeons) not only contributing to the production, but having a substantial influence on the structure of the industry and the markets (examples: Uruguay, Arabic countries, Israel, and more recently Chile, Vietnam and others) .
At present (2014), total caviar output from aquaculture can be estimated on about 290 t. This production can potentially increase quickly to 500-600 t in the next 5 years.
If these figures are a realistic reflection of the market, the future of caviar trade will mainly be determined by demand-driven price structures, and a new evolving “mass market” will appear, while the traditional luxury and expensive market will persist.
Further, the forecasted trends for the potentially large scale production of caviar and its implications for market structures must take into consideration the restrictions the industry is most likely to face into account (potential issues: animal welfare regulations, preventing caesarean section cutting, prohibiting hormone treatment of animals for human consumption in some countries, adverse environmental impact of exotic species). Other issues are uncertainties in the market place (e.g. rapid production increase and market sensitivities to overproduction with price structure effects, stress effects in production costs, drastically reduced profit margins, additional costs to promote product diversification; growing competition from alternative products) and opportunities (decreasing pressures on natural stocks; improved market image). All these issues indicate that this relatively new branch of the aquaculture industry faces similar growth pains as previous developments (e.g. salmon farming) but within a shorter time frame.
Furthermore, high prices and market demands for luxury products, together with the dramatic decline of natural sturgeon stocks and the subsequent restrictions on their fishery, provided the incentive since the early nineteen-seventies to seek for alternatives products that could fill the gap in caviar supplies. Additionally, innovative product developments were initiated to not only to meet the demand for caviar but also to even create several new market sectors while hitch-hiking on the traditional image of caviar. A set of scenarios on the diversification of so-called “caviar” products which are presently offered on the markets, sometimes misleading the consumers can be summarized as follows. The various type of products can been divided into six categories:
(a) true caviar;
(b) substitutes for caviar (eggs from other fish species or from other animals);
(c) caviar imitations (caviar-like products derived from other biological substances, imitating and/or reconstructing caviar in appearance and taste);
(d) caviar simulations (using other biological substances to simulate only the taste but not necessarily the appearence);
(e) derivates (products that contain true caviar as a component of their recipes);
(f) products with emotional associations to caviar (these are not related to caviar at all, but incorporate the name as a marketing strategy used to evoke a luxury image and infer a high value).
Presently, the eggs of more than 38 species of fish, besides sturgeons, and 3 species of other animals are used to produce substitutes; about 15 “caviar like” preparations are known on the market using as raw material fish flesh, seaweed and others mixtures of materials of various origin; five products can be considered simulations; few use caviar as a component in their production recipes; a lot of different objects are presently marketed which use the name caviar as a brand.