Iranian, Russian caviar losing out on Western markets due to sanctions and mislabeling

Reprint from September 24, 2020 quoting our Director Cyrus Tabrizi:

By Mark Godfrey September 24, 2020

Caviar from China and Spain is undercutting higher-quality product from the Caspian Sea with false marketing claims, according to a leading importer supplying the European market.

Cyrus Tabrizi, head of U.K.-based Caspian Monarque, also claims that competitors have “skillfully exploited” a misconception that there’s a lack of caviar production in Iran and Russia in order to grab market share. The relative lack of farmed caviar from Iran and Russia is “a purely geopolitical” rather than a supply issue, according to Tabrizi. He said sanctions on Iran and Russia are the reason why much Iranian production is now being sold in the Middle East, and specifically the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf.

A lack of cooperation between advertising standard-setting authorities and CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] in the U.K. has allowed caviar producers from third countries like China to label their product with claims like “Iranian tradition” and “Russian method,” Tabrizi said.

“The front labels of caviar ohen deliberately misstate the origins, where in fact the caviar comes from Spain or China,” said Tabrizi, who tells customers to check the CITES label on the base of each tin, which identifies the product by sturgeon species and origin. “I have no problem with Chinese caviar. What I don’t like is the chicanery and the deliberate deception in hiding its origins.”

He names a major high-end retailer in both London and in Spain as selling Chinese caviar from the kaluga variety of sturgeon as coming from the beluga, which he said is considered in the caviar trade as the most-premium sturgeon.

Likewise, Tabrizi believes only Caspian Sea waters are capable of producing the best caviar and sturgeon cannot be “transplanted” to other geographic regions without a negative impact on the product. For example, Tabrizi claims the taste of European caviar suffers from extra salt in its water compared to the Caspian Sea, while Chinese caviar is impacted by environmental pollution affecting that country’s sturgeon farms.

Iran’s role as a responsible manager of its sturgeon stocks deserves recognition, Tabrizi said. The country’s management of its stocks is recognized by CITES, but the country’s key caviar exporter, Shilat Trading, remains limited in its global trading by U.S. sanctions resulting in Iranian businesses being cut off from global payments processing systems.

Photo courtesy of C. Na Songkhla/Shutterstock

Mark Godfrey
Contributing Editor