China is dominating the global caviar industry — and prices are plummeting because it’s flooding the market

  • China farms one-third of the world’s caviar, making it the biggest producer of the luxury food in the world.
  • Chinese caviar producers like Kaluga Queen are flooding the global market, making the food cheaper and more accessible.
  • US producers are now feeling the strain, as caviar prices have dropped 58% in six years.
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This sturgeon can produce as much as 33 pounds of eggs. And just 1 pound is worth nearly $57,000.

It’s caviar – also known as “black gold.”

But Chinese caviar producers are flooding the market, making this luxury item cheaper and more accessible in the US.

Wholesale prices for caviar fell 58% from 2012 to 2018 for US producers – and small American caviar farms are struggling to make a profit.

Even so, caviar production in China continues to skyrocket.

One-third of the world's caviar is made in China, with producers like Kaluga Queen leading the way.

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One-third of the world’s caviar is made in China, with producers like Kaluga Queen leading the way.
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Getty Images

China supplies one-third of the world’s caviar, and its biggest producer, Kaluga Queen, raises its sturgeon in this 221-square-mile man-made lake.

Here, a worker is feeding pellets to sturgeon – which are no ordinary fish.

Xia Yongtao, Kaluga Queen deputy general manager: “It’s a living fossil from the Cretaceous period, the era of dinosaurs, and like a ‘living Ferrari’ swimming in the water.”

There are about 200,000 of these “living Ferraris” at this farm eating a diet of shrimp, peas, and vitamins. At 7 years old, they can reach up to 13 feet long and weigh 660 pounds.

And after tending to them for seven years, it’s not always easy to say goodbye.

US caviar producers are now feeling the strain as prices drop.

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US caviar producers are now feeling the strain as prices drop.
source
Getty Images

Qiao Yuwen, Kaluga Queen sturgeon farm worker: “When they are mature, they can give the company profit, but they have to leave us. I find it hard to part with them.”

In the end, it’s a business and the eggs are a delicacy, sought by many around the world.

Russia used to be the world’s top producer, but overfishing of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea depleted its supply of caviar.

And other countries – including Japan, Italy, and the US – have stepped up to meet demand.

Today, China leads the charge with 54% of the world’s commercial caviar farms. And no one has ramped up production quite as fast as the Chinese.

In fact, China’s caviar production increased tenfold from 2003 to 2016.

And Kaluga Queen has plans to get even bigger. Its deputy general manager said over the next five years, it will produce 20% to 30% more caviar each year.

This increase in supply is a threat to other caviar producers, who fear the abundance will lower profits and decrease the value of their product.

But consumers have everything to gain from a lower price. And for now, caviar is still seen as a symbol of luxury.