Long regarded as the absolute apex of luxury foods, caviar has become a truly global industry, with the best caviar brands sourcing their roe from some very surprising places. Although for much of the 20th century the caviar market was dominated by Eastern European corporations, recently China has come to prominence as the leading source in the world. However, not all caviar is created equal, and connoisseurs are notable in their ability to discern the source and quality of their eggs.
In addition to being a delicacy, caviar also boasts several health benefits including being rich in selenium and omega-3 fatty acids. However, its high retail price prevents it from breaking through into the wider supplement market. The use of caviar products in cosmetics has shown some promise as well. By far the largest driver of caviar sales is the restaurant industry, which is responsible for 70% of total purchases. Other venues for caviar include cruise ships, airlines and hotels.
The caviar business model is one that prioritizes rigorous sourcing and product control. For most of its history, the top choice in the product came from wild sturgeon in nine major companies, most notably Russia, the Ukraine and Bulgaria. However, in 2006 a ban was placed on wild harvesting out of concern for sustainability. 85% of wild sturgeon species are at risk of extinction. That allowed other countries to disrupt the market. The ban was partially lifted later but caviar company business has pivoted to feature farmed eggs over wild.
If you ask a caviar business insider to break down the major producers in the market, a few notable names will arise. These major competitors in the global caviar market include China’s Hangzhou Qiandaohu Xunlong Sci-Tech Co, who are easily the largest caviar company business in the world. They produce a full 30% of the planet’s total yearly yield, much of it under the Kaluga Queen caviar brand. That company farms five different breeds of sturgeon and supplies caviar to most of Paris’s three-Michelin star restaurants.
Europe’s largest caviar producer is Italy’s Agroittica Lombarda Group, which produces approximately 15% of the product on the market. Their Calvisius Caviar, widely regarded as one of the best caviar brands, is a wonder of aquaculture, made in a technologically advanced facility where surplus heat from a steelworks is used to warm sturgeon tanks to their ideal temperature.
Iran has also traditionally been a major force in the caviar business. The ancient Persians were the first to consume the roe, which they dubbed “khav-yar,” roughly translating to “cake of strength.” Iran previously relied on wild-caught sturgeon in the Caspian Sea to support its caviar industry, but in recent years the country has successfully pivoted to an aquaculture model. However, U.S. sanctions in the wake of the abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal leave its import status up in the air, despite the high quality of the product. Caspian Monarque is a well-respected Iranian caviar producer and distributor.
Many other countries have begun to produce caviar in locations ranging from Florida to Madagascar. Other leading caviar brands in the global market include Sacramento, CA-based Sterling Caviar, which was founded in the 1970s but only offered their first commercial product in 1994; Royal Belgian, the first producer in Belgium, boasting their own custom sturgeon breeds for total quality control; and Germany’s Attilus, one of the few caviar producers in the world supplying authentic Royal Oscietra caviar.
In addition to the sturgeon roe used in the traditional caviar business model, some suppliers also offer snail caviar, also known as “Pearls of Aphrodite.” Primarily produced in France and Poland, this is a small niche of the overall global market, but people interested in caviar for business should be aware that consumer interest is growing and the product’s retail price is keeping pace with traditional sturgeon caviar.
In terms of consumption, the countries that eat the most caviar are traditionally European, with Germany and France in the lead followed by Poland, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain. Outside of the continent, the United States, Japan, Russia and China are the largest caviar markets, with a small but promising demand beginning to form in Australia. In USD, the global caviar market was estimated at $300.4 million in 2019.
One unusual major buyer for caviar is airline Lufthansa, which has long been the single biggest purchaser of the food in the world. Their first-class passengers have come to expect top-quality caviar be served on long haul flights, and they have developed a high-tech infrastructure to transport it while maintaining its delicate freshness.
Caviar consumption is rising in the United States as well, with imports totaling $1.69 billion last year through November 2019. Caviar business insider reports credit a renewed appreciation and interest in exotic food, as more Americans are being exposed to cuisines from outside of their regional culture through the Internet and television. Also, as conspicuous consumption on social media becomes a way to affirm social status, caviar serves as a helpful shorthand for disposable income.
Selling caviar for business is a compelling proposition. As more and more individuals are given the opportunity to consume what was once a delicacy for the ultra-elite, the global market is predicted to reach $560 billion by 2025. The retail price of caviar is also expected to remain stable or rise, as demand and supply typically do not fluctuate significantly. An entrepreneur willing to introduce the best caviar brands to an under-served market, of which there are thousands in the world, stands to make a significant profit.