The pandemic has cost Australian oyster farmers so much of their domestic exports and markets that overseas demand has dried up severely and Australian restaurants have closed.
the main points:
- South Australian oysters are in lofty demand in Australia
- Farmers shifted from international exports to domestic retail
- It’s pleasing news for an industry that has struggled with closing borders and restaurants during the pandemic
However, as the country reopens, farmers are reporting unprecedented demand for their produce, with a hungry Australian appetite for local oysters.
Stephen and Carly Thompson have been riding the choppy waves of the oyster industry in South Australia for 20 years.
After surviving the POMS crisis, business was booming – but then there was the coronavirus tsunami.
“We had farms packed of oysters for the first time in five years,” Thompson said.
Thompson said they had no buyers when restaurants and wholesalers closed.
“We were really thinking about what considerate of oysters we’re going to have to throw on the roads to expire,” she said.
The couple invested everything in their business, Gazander Oysters, and worked on a secluded shrub estate called Little Douglas at the tip of the Eyre Peninsula.
With no choice but to innovate and diversify, Thompson transformed what would have been an existential threat into ample opportunity.
“I did some brainstorming…we decided that maybe a pop-up store in some sort of refrigerated truck was the way to go,” Thompson said.
By reaching out to customers directly and selling their oysters using social media and their website, the couple gained access to a whole unused market.
“We’re starting to go [to Adelaide] Every week… It’s been distinguished, I’ve had a really distinguished crowd response from people, and probably the biggest concern is that they haven’t been infected… But the really distinguished thing about COVID and our customers is that they have embraced this unused challenge,” said Ms. Thompson.
“The public has been waiting to have a lot of things available to them and they seem to have a voracious appetite for it.
Even though their restaurant orders approached pre-COVID levels, they decided to embrace their unused business operations.
“It has actually added another whole arm to our business, which we are continuing this year because it has been really productive for us and we have really enjoyed it,”
Locals embracing their own backyard
Farmers in South Australia have seen record sales over the former few quarters, which many attributed to people being happier spending money on themselves and the fact that many locals were looking forward to their backyards for experiments.
Tour operators in Coffin Bay have also received increasing interest.
Ben Caterall of Oyster Farm Tours said Australian tourists have never had a greater appetite for adventure and oysters.
“Looking at our numbers from previous years, when we had international tourists and cross-state tourists, final year it was almost all South Australians, and we had our busiest year ever, and that included three months of downtime from COVID.”
Domestic demand cancels out exports
Angel Seafood – one of the world’s two sustainable oyster growers – is usually a big exporter but during the depths of the epidemic, it turned to the local industry for stability.
CEO Zach Hallman said the company has turned to retail, putting its products in supermarkets where, he said, they were in lofty demand.
“A lot of selling all over the supermarkets, so we really took advantage of that, and we have proven ourselves very well in this market, and we are looking at more opportunities in this area now, so we have really succeeded,” he said.
“This year has been distinguished with the borders clearly reopening and things like that, people are out and about.
“We are not exporting at the moment, the demand in the local markets is very powerful and we are really trying to maintain this market.”
Mr. Hallman said the industry is in pleasing shape at the moment.
“I’m hearing reports of really pleasing sales and viability this year, so I hope all growers are packed of joy for now,” he said.
“The demand from day one that the oysters are in such pleasing condition has been distinguished.”
At the end of 2020, the company acquired more than six hectares of additional water leases to increase annual production from 10 to 12 million oysters.
As part of its innovative strategy, the company has been experimenting with a New Zealand method of oyster farming called Flipfarming on three hectares of deep-water leasehold in Coffin Bay.
“This water is very much in demand, so the water here is very deep and we have to take advantage of what we have,” Mr. Hallman said.
Mr Hallman said the unused method has reduced the impact on workers and hopefully will aid preserve them on the job.
“This unused method, no one gets wet, no one gets in the water – all of this is done on the arid,parched and pontoon boat, so the efficiency and productivity gains are going to be vast for us,” he said.
“It’s a floating system. We actually take all the product to the basket, so all the infrastructure required is very minimal compared to the traditional method.”