Huge output and demand for popular seafood dish set to further boost industry
Crayfish, a popular midnight snack among major Chinese cities in the summer, is leveraging an enormous domestic market. In fact, a complete industrial chain of it has already been fostered. The crayfish industry is forecast to witness rapid growth in the next few years as more crayfish fans and catering entities support it together with promoting factors such as the Internet Plus mode and festive activities.
On a summer night in China, eating a plate of red hot crayfish with a glass of beer is quickly becoming a popular tradition; the crustacean is gradually releasing its potential to drive an industry.
"The crayfish industry has been expanding at an extraordinary speed, with the fish now being raised in almost all the counties neighboring Qianjiang, Central China's Hubei Province, also known as 'the home to crayfish'," a 31-year-old local farmer, surnamed Xu, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Before breeding crayfish three years ago, Xu grew wheat and rice. "Ten years ago, only a few large farms in Qianjiang were involved in crayfish culturing. But, upon noticing that these farms' crayfish sold well, I decided to give it a try. It turned out that my decision was right," Xu said.
"My initial breeding area was only 2 mu [0.13 hectare]. This year, I expanded it to about 300 mu," he said.
In addition to breeding crayfish himself, Xu also collects crayfish from other farmers and then sells them to restaurants and retailers in cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.
"Last year, I could collect at most 4,000 kilograms a day. This year, I can collect an average of more than 5,000 kilograms a day, but this still doesn't meet market demand," Xu said.
With a total value of 146.61 billion yuan ($21.16 billion) in 2016, the burgeoning domestic crayfish industry has not only benefitted Xu; it has also provided 5 million Chinese people with jobs, according to a crayfish industry development report released on June 12 by a fishing administrative unit under China's Ministry of Agriculture.
Entering China in the 1990s, the crayfish industry has gone through the initial phase of fishing and catering, currently developing into a comprehensive chain, including culturing, processing, logistics, catering services and festive activities, the report said.
In 2016, China had the world's largest crayfish output of nearly 900,000 tons, with nationwide culturing areas exceeding 9 million mu, mainly concentrated in the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River, according to the report.
Central and Eastern China's Hubei, Anhui, Jiangsu, Hunan and Jiangxi provinces have taken up 95 percent of the nation's total crayfish output, with Hubei's Qianjiang city and Jiangsu's Xuyi county being especially renowned for the product.
Huge consumption market
"Crayfish have fostered a surging market as more and more crayfish fans are willing to pay for the tasty snack cooked in different attractive flavors," Cui He, vice chairman of the China Aquatic Products Processing and Marketing Association, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, large numbers of restaurants are pouring into the crayfish catering sector, making it popular within the market, Cui said.
In parallel with the enormous output of crayfish is its stunning consumption in China, which recorded 879,300 tons last year, up 32.47 percent from 2014, according to the crayfish industry report.
Northern, Eastern and Central China are the main regions where crayfish are highly demanded, with Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, Hefei, capital of Anhui Province, and other major Chinese cities consuming tens of thousands of crayfish annually.
The booming crayfish industry, of which Lü You from Wuhan is a representative, has attracted many ambitious people who seek employment or seek to start their own businesses to make a living.
Lü quit his job as a white-collar worker in the financial services sector a year ago and, instead, devoted himself to becoming a businessman in order to provide customers with high-quality crayfish dishes.
"In the past year, I have opened two stores selling cooked crayfish online and offline, which brought in a revenue totaling 150,000 yuan every month, with a gross profit of 55 to 60 percent. But I want to develop my brand, Qizhi Longxia, into a famous one, like Zhouheiya, a domestic brand well-known for its spicy duck neck delicacy," he told the Global Times on Thursday.
The rapid growth of the crayfish industry is predominantly a result of the crucial policy guidance and financial support from relevant national and local authorities, experts say.
For example, a government-promoted culturing mode, which coordinates the growth of rice and crayfish, is now considered highly productive in crayfish breeding, Cui said.
Favored by Internet users
"The crayfish [phenomenon] has turned out to be a perfect combination of tasty food and social networks," Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based industry expert, told the Global Times.
Pictures of the crustacean are often posted in WeChat friend circles and on Sina Weibo from June to August, the peak season of crayfish eating.
Noting that the phenomenon is very typical in Beijing, Liu added that this is also where crayfish are favored by the city's large number of Internet workers.
Taking advantage of the popular Internet Plus mode and the emerging takeaway market in China, many start-ups have been attracted to the crayfish takeaway business with more capital investments coming along, according to media reports.
The famous O2O crayfish takeaway platform 'Crayfish Coming' is such an example. "Mainly covering Beijing's urban areas, our orders reached 5,000 a day last July and August. The number [of orders a day] is anticipated to record 8,000-10,000 during the same two months this year," Wu Caogang, a co-founder of the company told the Global Times.
With the promotion of China's consumption upgrade and takeaway businesses becoming more popular, Wu predicted that the crayfish takeaway market could hold a stake of 20-30 percent in crayfish catering within the next two or three years.
However, crayfish connection with the Internet should not transfer focus from food flavor, quality and services to the mode itself, Liu warned.
The domestic crayfish market is expected to continue to boom.
However, with more market players entering, adverse phenomena have appeared, such as disorderly competition or waging a price war against each other, said Lü. "An industry reshuffle may occur in the next two or three years, squeezing low-quality crayfish businesses out of the market."