Caviar Club sees success with oysters

Interest in seafood has been growing every year in the Czech Republic

Interest in seafood has been growing in the Czech Republic, as supplies get more reliable and people develop more international tastes. An increasing number of restaurants are offering seafood, and people are preparing at home more often.

The local company Caviar Club imports caviar, oysters and other specialty items. As the name hints, they began with caviar and then expanded.

“The demand for quality seafood is increasing every year. It is 500 more than what it was 15 years ago,” Caviar Club’s Marc Lucas said.

“Interest is growing, it is a landlocked country and we are nowhere near France or northern Germany or England in terms of seafood consumption, but we are getting there,” he said.

The company has grown rapidly, with restaurants as the main customer, though individuals can also buy their products directly online from Caviar Club or from some online food delivery services.

“We started around three years ago just with caviar, and obviously caviar being a relatively small niche market, especially in the Czech Republic, last year some of our clients asked us can you also start doing oysters,” Lucas said.

Since the Czech Republic is landlocked, all seafood has to be imported, but that shouldn’t concern people.

Lucas said that even at seaside resorts, some 70 percent of the seafood is imported, often from as far away as Vietnam, Chile or New Zealand. “Basically in this world, you hardly get any really local seafood,” he said.

In Prague, Caviar Club delivers live oysters to the buyer 36 to 48 hours after they left the oyster farm.

“We do not work with any intermediaries. We buy directly at the farms. We are almost the only one from the Czech Republic to buy all their oysters directly from oyster farms,” Lucas said.

The oysters are shipped live using specialized logistics firms. “It is a cooling chain all the way,” he said. “We do not store the oysters, we bring them on the day they arrive directly to the client. This is why we have grown so fast,” he said.

“When you eat oysters from us they are three or a maximum four days old. You can’t get them much fresher than that,” he said.

Some 80 percent of the world’s oysters are farmed, and not harvested from the wild. Improved methods have made farmed oysters much safer than they used to be. The muscles that keep oysters closed are now stronger due to the oysters being raised in tidal waters, for example. This allows oysters to remain to live out of the water for longer since they can stay closed much longer.

One type of oyster that Caviar Club sells starts out in the waters off of France, then they are moved to the coast of Ireland and them back to France for finishing. “Ireland has the best conditions for the Pacific oyster,” he said, adding that it is a completely natural process without chemicals added.

Aside from France and Ireland, they also get oysters from Holland and Canada.
The oyster segment of the business has grown rapidly.

“We started last year with five clients for oysters right now after 12 months we have about 120 clients. We are now the biggest oyster importer and distributor in the Czech Republic and Slovakia,” he said.

“If you look 10 years back there was hardly any distribution of oysters here. Now we are doing around 20,000 pieces per month, mainly in Prague and a little bit in Brno and Karlovy Vary. So it's growing,” he said.

Starting three years ago in the caviar market was not as straightforward as it sounds. A lot of research went into finding the most ecological and sustainable options, as consumers now often look for that in seafood.

Lucas first looked at getting caviar from sturgeon that were milked for their eggs, rather than killed but eventually determined this was more of a marketing gimmick. “I thought: ‘Wow, this is great.’ But I spent almost one year researching it and at the end, a professor from Canada told me to stay away from it. They have to feed the fish hormones, it is a huge stress for the fish, it is really cruel to the animal,” he said.

“We found a company in Italy. They have Friend of the Sea certification. They keep the fish live in rivers on gravel beds, use clear water from the Alps, with no medication and no hormones. This gives them the best life for six to 26 years, which is how long we have to wait for the caviar. It is a better choice,” he said.

Friend of the Sea certifies and promotes seafood from sustainable fisheries and sustainable aquaculture. It was started by the Earth Island Institute, the same NGO that operates the International Dolphin-Safe project.

Lucas says that his caviar supplier also has a team of scientists that are bringing the species back into the wild. “So it is as sustainable as a fish farm can be,” he said. Sturgeon have been reintroduced to places where they had been previously such as the Danube and Adria rivers.

Caviar Club is still expanding its selection of seafood. “We also do lobsters, we do live king crabs. And some special products,” he said, adding that he sees increased interest month by month.

Customers have been satisfied with the seafood. Award-winning chef Matteo de Carli of the restaurants Ryba je ryba and Casa de Carli appreciates the freshness. “That is why we buy from them. Then we put [the live oysters] in our aquarium, so it keeps the freshness. They stay out of the water just for the time of the travel,” he said.

He also appreciates that Caviar Club brings for its flexibility. “I really like to work with them because they like to try new things and different products. If I say, ‘Let’s try a different oyster,’ it is not a problem for them to get it. I love the fact that they are very flexible,” he said.

The certifications for sustainability are also a plus. “More and more people ask about it. We try to go very sustainable when we select the suppliers,” he added.

He also confirmed that people no longer need to be concerned about seafood away from the coast. “It is not hard anymore to get good fish. Six hours and it is here. It is just a myth, not something that is real anymore. Now logistics is very quick. We can get whatever we want. It is just a matter to want to get it,” he said.

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