SeaFood Business

JUN 2014

SeaFood Business is the global trusted authority for seafood buyers and sellers. We are the seafood industry's leading trade magazine with more than 30 years of experience. Our coverage is based on the "business" of buying and selling seafood.

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Page 26 of 46

Top Story Oyster farms are fueling growing demand from discerning customers. Photo courtesy of Bob Rheault Oyster craze Oyster farms and harvesters are struggling to feed a growing restaurant demand for the shellfsh BY STEVE COOMES W hether and wherever they're called oysters or "ersters," sales of the briny bivalves are booming in North America. Happy suppliers say demand is outstripping supply and that price escalation has yet to stall diner desire for the homely mollusks. "Buck a shuck" happy hour prices can be found in cities near supply sources, though some oyster bars are charging $2.50 to $5 in San Francisco. and Q1 2014. Te Chicago- based research frm says oys- ter bars are popping up all over the United States. "A lot of oysters on the half shell are being showcased in bars," says Darren Tristano, executive VP at Technomic. An oyster bar "has become a great way to increase sales pretty inexpensively. Opera- tors can make some decent money by opening it just a few days a week." Bob Rheault, executive di- rector at the East Coast Shell- fsh Growers Association in Toms River, N.J., says even in his humble hometown of Port Edith, R.I., there are three new shellfsh-centered restaurants. He estimates farmed oyster production has doubled in the last fve years and says new farms are open- ing up regularly on the East- ern Seaboard. No farmer he's spoken with recently is meet- ing customer demand. "On the East Coast, I have 400 niche marketing name- brand oysters, mostly mom and pops, and these guys are just kicking ass," says Rheault. "Tey know that if you run out of product in July, you're leaving money on the table because you should have raised your prices." Pressures are similarly high on West Coast suppli- ers, according to Margaret Barrette, executive director of the Pacifc Coast Shell- fsh Growers Association in Olympia, Wash. She says new oysters bars are turning up all over major restaurant cities like Portland, Ore., and chefs want to menu as many as six types of oysters. "Customers want variety and they're willing to pay for it," says Barrette. "Tat start- ed this whole phenomenon where growers are trying to grow a better oyster for the slurping experience." To make them more "slur- pable," growers want oysters that are deeply cupped rather than fat, and hold the mol- lusk's saline juices. To achieve that shape, oysters are grown in bags and agitated as tides advance and retreat. "As it tumbles in the bag — which it can't in a natu- ral setting, because they're connected — it chips of the edges of the oyster, it causes the shell to harden and that cup to deepen," Barrette 22 SeaFood Business June 2014 Visit us online at Part of the boom can be credited to restaurant sales. New menu research from Technomic of 5,000 independents and 2,000 chains shows a 7.5 percent increase of oyster items year over year between Q1 2013 22_24 Top story june sfb.indd 22 5/20/14 11:18 AM

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