Sea cu­cum­bers slither in

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By NIU YUE in New York

The world is the sea cu­cum­ber’s oys­ter.

Lin Yangjie, a se­nior sales­man in the sea cu­cum­ber busi­ness in New York, said that at least 45 sea cu­cum­ber shops ex­ist in New York City, and he es­ti­mates that there are at least 250 in the US.

Sea cu­cum­bers are echin­o­derms from the class Holothuroidea. They are marine an­i­mals with a leath­ery skin and an elon­gated body. Other echin­o­derms in­clude starfish, sea urchins and sand dol­lars.

Lin said that about 90 per­cent of the sea cu­cum­ber busi­ness was trans­acted through phys­i­cal stores and the other 10 per­cent on­line, on plat­forms such as Ali­pay and WeChat.

Lin said that two main va­ri­eties of sea cu­cum­ber prod­ucts are sold: de­hy­drated and ready-made, and 85 per­cent of his busi­ness is fo­cused on the Chi­nese main­land, where most of his cus­tomers live.

Us­ing WeChat Mo­ments, a photo-shar­ing func­tion of the Chi­nese mo­bile mes­sag­ing app, Lin dis­played his newly launched prod­ucts from Alaska and an­swered his clients’ ques­tions quickly.

Lin said his WeChat plat­form brought him at least 10 or­ders from China, with his as­sis­tant in China work­ing to ex­pand the busi­ness. The mar­ket share in both the US and China was equally split.

On Alibaba, the price of dried sea cu­cum­ber ranges from $435 to $1,000-plus per kilo­gram.

“Sea cu­cum­ber is re­garded as a highly nu­tri­tious and high-end food,” Lin said. “Not ev­ery­one in China can af­ford to in­clude it in their daily recipes.”

There are two ar­eas known for sea cu­cum­ber in North Amer­ica, one is the cold wa­ters of Alaska, and the other is the Gulf of Mex­ico.

Tina Fei, a sea cu­cum­ber sales­woman in New York’s Chi­na­town, said the price of Alaskan sea cu­cum­ber was slightly higher than the Gulf of Mex­ico prod­uct.

Sea cu­cum­bers from the gulf used to be at least $50 cheaper per 500 kilo­grams than their Alaskan coun­ter­parts, but the price gap has nar­rowed.

“Chi­nese con­sumers had such a big ap­petite for sea cu­cum­ber here that many sea ar­eas now are closed for fish­ing sea cu­cum­ber,” she said. “That’s why the price of prod­ucts of the Gulf of Mex­ico rose a lot, and the gap al­most dis­ap­peared.”

She said the of­fer price in China on­line was ap­prox­i­mately twice the do­mes­tic price.

“The prof­itabil­ity is rather sig­nif­i­cant,” Fei said.

Fei said most of the sea cu­cum­ber eaters in the US were Chi­nese, and that many other com­mu­ni­ties “would frown upon the idea of eat­ing sea cu­cum­ber be­cause it looks so thorny and jel­lish”.

She said that more than 95 per­cent of her cus­tomers are Chi­nese.

Long Yi­fan in New York con­trib­uted to the story.

LONG YI­FAN / FOR CHINA DAILY

Two vis­i­tors from Spain look at sea cu­cum­ber prod­ucts in a store in Chi­na­town in New York on Tues­day.

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