It’s fair to say that the hospitality industry has had it harder than most this year, with restaurants, pubs and clubs across Australia continuing to suffer through lockdowns and an economic downturn. But it’s also worth thinking about the businesses that support those businesses: the providores and producers that make the products they sell. Some of whom have been also hit harder than others.
For example, Aussies have been drinking plenty in lockdown… But with restaurants closed, businesses that supply fine dining ingredients have done it tough. One business that’s been feeling the pinch is Australia’s lobster farmers, who’ve dealt with the one-two punch of the COVID downturn as well as frosty relations with China seeing access to the gold mine that is the mainland Chinese market more or less cut off.
It’s a very different story for another type of luxurious Australian seafood, however. Australia’s oyster business has beaten the odds and is actually thriving (in some parts of the country at least), despite the challenges that 2020 and 2021 have wrought upon the industry.
ABC News relates that despite the pandemic initially costing Australian oyster farmers much of their export and domestic markets, as the country has re-opened, growers – particularly in South Australia – have reported unprecedented demand for their products, with Australian appetites hungry for local oysters.
“In South Australia, oyster growers have experienced record sales for the past few quarters, which many have attributed to people being happier to spend money on themselves and the fact many locals have been looking to their own backyards for experiences.”
Growers have also quickly pivoted towards retail, not only getting their oysters into supermarkets where they’ve been selling like hotcakes but also trialling direct-to-consumer sales models for the first time, which has proven to be a real revelation.
How have oysters thrived while lobsters have struggled? Well, it’s down to two key factors. Firstly, most of Australia’s domestic oyster harvest is consumed locally, with 70% of Australian oysters sold through the domestic hospitality market according to Oysters Australia (well, at least in pre-COVID times). In comparison, we export 94% of our lobster harvest, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. Therefore, the oyster business is more ‘self-reliant’, as it were; not as exposed to foreign trade or politics.
There’s also probably a price factor at play. Oysters might still be a luxury food but they’re still cheaper pound for pound than lobster, even with Australia’s current low lobster prices. It’s less of a risk/investment for a restaurant or household to buy oysters as opposed to lobsters. Australians are also likely more confident preparing and eating oysters than they are eating lobster, which can be a challenge to prepare.
Of course, we don’t want to oversell the oyster industry’s success or trivialise how hard it’s been for some oyster farmers. South Australia might be doing quite well but some farmers in New South Wales are still struggling, as a “super scared” Sydney has been slow to pick up orders again, another report suggests.
Still, it’s good to hear that Aussies haven’t forgotten how to shuck during this era of singles bubbles…