Lob­ster claws its way back

Cana­dian del­i­cacy so pop­u­lar, McDon­ald’s can­cels McLob­ster due to higher prices

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY SYL­VAIN CHARLEBOIS Syl­vain Charlebois is Se­nior Fel­low with the At­lantic In­sti­tute for Mar­ket Stud­ies, dean of the Fac­ulty of Man­age­ment and a pro­fes­sor in the Fac­ulty of Agri­cul­ture at Dal­housie Univer­sity

Lob­sters are not easy on the eyes. The first per­son to dis­cover that these hideous crus­taceans were ed­i­ble de­serves a medal.

Lob­ster was once the poor man’s pro­tein and fed mainly to pris­on­ers. These days, the chicken of the sea is en­joy­ing more love than ever — U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron re­cently dined on blue lob­ster at the Eif­fel Tower.

Prices are up and de­mand is high — things are look­ing up for the lob­ster in­dus­try.

Lob­ster’s pop­u­lar­ity, how­ever, has re­cently forced some food ser­vice com­pa­nies to al­ter their menus. McDon­ald’s Restau­rants ceased of­fer­ing McLob­ster in the At­lantic re­gion this summer due to higher prices.

All At­lantic prov­inces and Que­bec har­vest lob­sters, with Nova Sco­tia the largest pro­ducer by far. The in­dus­try is val­ued at over $1 bil­lion, twice as much as in 2010. Sup­pli­ers can’t keep up with the grow­ing global ap­petite for lob­ster. Cana­dian lob­ster ex­ports to China have tripled since 2012; it’s even sold on­line to China, thanks to Alibaba.

But the lob­ster in­dus­try has had its lean times. For sev­eral years, lob­ster was not only cheap, it was rel­a­tively un­pop­u­lar. Other than in the At­lantic re­gion, by way of curious tourists and lob­sters boils, it was barely an af­ter­thought.

As a re­sult, the in­dus­try mar­keted lob­ster as an in­gre­di­ent rather than a dish on its own. Lob­ster burritos, beer, donuts — lob­ster any­thing could be found on menus from coast to coast.

The in­dus­try dis­cov­ered that sell­ing lob­ster as an in­gre­di­ent at­tracted a dif­fer­ent kind of con­sumer, one who’s not keen on go­ing through the ef­fort of eat­ing an en­tire lob­ster. Af­ter all, not all con­sumers are true Mar­itimers.

Lob­ster meat ac­tu­ally makes a strong case for it­self, health­wise. While it’s con­sid­ered a rich and in­dul­gent feast, it ac­tu­ally con­tains fewer calo­ries than an equal por­tion of skin­less chicken breast. It’s also a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids, potas­sium, and vi­ta­mins E, B12 and B6.

The Canada-Euro­pean Union Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment (CETA), which is about to be im­ple­mented, will give Canada’s har­vesters a sig­nif­i­cant boost over those from Maine. Euro­peans will soon buy Cana­dian lob­ster tar­iff-free, while pay­ing a sur­charge to Amer­i­cans. Once freight and shrink­age fees are in­cluded, lob­sters can get ex­pen­sive, so CETA can make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence.

Europe im­ported more than US$150 mil­lion in lob­ster from Amer­ica last year, slightly less than what Canada ex­ported. With help from the lower Cana­dian dol­lar, the agree­ment makes our prod­ucts more fi­nan­cially at­trac­tive to a con­ti­nent teem­ing with af­flu­ent and hun­gry con­sumers.

This is­sued could be raised dur­ing up­com­ing North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment (NAFTA) rene­go­ti­a­tions. But CETA could also ben­e­fit Amer­i­cans since they send a good por­tion of their lob­ster catch to Canada for pro­cess­ing.

With this mo­men­tum, it’s cru­cial not to price the prod­uct out of the re­tail mar­ket. These days, a $30 lob­ster roll isn’t un­usual and such high prices may scare away con­sumers. This hap­pened with beef a few years ago. Given the per­cep­tion that lob­ster is mostly a lux­ury prod­uct, it won’t take much for con­sumers to walk away.

The in­dus­try, sup­ported by the Lob­ster Coun­cil of Canada, is do­ing things right and con­tin­u­ing to make the com­mod­ity more ac­ces­si­ble is key to lob­ster’s suc­cess. The in­dus­try just adopted a brand­ing strat­egy to tell the Cana­dian story. This is timely, since there were sus­pi­cions about global mis­la­belling of Cana­dian lob­ster.

The in­dus­try has had its share of suc­cess and fail­ure, but it ap­pears to be tak­ing con­trol of its des­tiny.

You rock, lob­ster.

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