As the winter delicacy comes into season, oyster producers in Japan are banking on brisk demand from households as people stay home due to the coronavirus crisis.
While oyster shipments to restaurants have been sluggish due to people avoiding dining out to avoid catching the contagion, producers and distributors are increasing their efforts to boost sales to households.
Consumption of oysters, often deep fried or eaten in hot pot dishes, has been declining in the country. According to internal affairs ministry surveys, the average amount of oysters purchased by households with two or more members in 2019 stood at 420 grams, down by over 30% from a decade before and by more than 50% from about 20 years before.
The drop was partly due to people cooking less. A fish store official, however, said, “I expect people will eat a lot of oysters at home this season because of the trend to refrain from eating out amid the epidemic.”
“Many fish stores are pinning high hopes on oysters and beefing up sales promotion activities” while catches of seasonal fish, such as saury and salmon, have been sluggish, an industry official said. With demand at restaurants falling, high-quality oysters are increasingly being sold at supermarkets this year, and a growing number of stores are offering shelled oysters, said Shoko Izumi, head of Kaki no Kai, a Tokyo-based oyster promotion group.
“Production has been robust this year, mainly in Hiroshima Prefecture,” an official of fish wholesaler Chuo Gyorui Co. said at Tokyo’s massive Toyosu wholesale market. “The quality is good, and wholesale prices are lower,” the official said. Hiroshima is one of the largest oyster-producing areas in the country.
In September, Chuo Gyorui began to sell large frozen oysters for deep-frying at home. Due to strong demand, the company is expanding sales channels for the product to large retail stores.
Funabiki Shoten, a fish wholesaler in the city of Ako, Hyogo Prefecture, is selling massive amounts of locally grown oysters online.
Its Samurai Oysters, named after local samurai from the Edo Period, have been particularly popular, attracting many repeat customers. Since October, catalog-based sales of the local brand oysters to general consumers have more than tripled from the year-before levels. The oysters “are plump and do not shrink or smell bad when they are heated,” a Funabiki Shoten official said.
The winter delicacy “will be tastier toward March,” said Shoko Funabiki, marketing and public relations chief of the company. “I hope people will enjoy oysters in various ways, such as deep-frying them, and eating them raw and in hot pot dishes,” she said.
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