It’s no Bluff, pricey oysters still in demand

24 March / Stuff

A cost of living crisis might be gripping the country, but demand for the Bluff oyster shows no sign of abating despite a dozen costing almost $40 across some counters.

More than three weeks after the Bluff oyster season opened, Egmont Seafoods general manager Caleb Mawson said the retail arm of the New Plymouth business was selling out of its daily stock before lunchtime.

“We’re getting in 20 dozen a day, and they’re nearly always gone by 10 or 11 o’clock in the morning,” he said.

“And we’re having to limit some of the fish and chips shops to a couple of dozen to make sure they’re evenly shared around.”

The demand for the delicacy comes despite extraordinary price increases. Over 35 years, the price of a dozen raw oysters has risen by 780%, putting it well ahead of the average 144% inflation affecting food costs over the same period. In the 1988 season, Egmont Seafoods was selling a dozen oysters for $3.95. Caleb’s father, Keith Mawson, recalled he sold 30,000 dozen in one week. Now they were selling a dozen at $34.90.

“I think the people who love Bluff oysters can’t get enough of them, and they’ll pay whatever they need to pay,” Caleb Mawson said.

The head of the biggest operator in the country, Barnes Oysters general manager Graeme Wright, said demand was far outweighing supply throughout the country, especially after one of the most disappointing seasons he had encountered last year. That demand had yet to ease back despite the price being the highest he could remember in his 27 years in the industry.

“We are all in the same position in the fact we have had 9% increases in freight, and we’ve had 10% price increases in packaging (in the last year),” he said.

“The price increases we pass on are directly related to cost and there are no increases in margins, it’s just a very expensive fishery to operate in.”

Keith Mawson believes he could still sell “five times” the number if more were available. One of the many customers to make their way to Egmont Seafoods to get oysters was Gavin White who swore Bluff was the best he had tasted anywhere in the world.

“I was at an oyster festival in New York, and they had about 30 different ones you could have, but it’s hard to go past these,” he said.

“Maybe it’s home bias, but it’s just the texture, nothing beats a Bluff.” While White was happy to have his al fresco, across town at the popular Blowfish Takeaway owner George Liu said there was also a strong demand for the battered version, which would set customers back $4.50 each, or they could have half a dozen for $26 or a dozen for $51.

“There are a lot of people who would like more, but they really only buy a couple now to go with the rest of their order,” he said.

The Bluff oyster season runs through until August 1.

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