Supermarkets boost British oyster sales

Published on
March 15, 2016

Sales of oysters in the U.K. are expanding by 10 percent per year, according to David Jarrad, director (CEO) of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB). And supermarkets are playing a major role in generating more business, he added.

“Some 2,500 tons of oysters are harvested annually in the U.K. and this equates to about 25 million individual shellfish,” he said.

Supermarket sales of oysters undoubtedly received a significant boost last month when Morrisons, one of the country’s largest supermarket chains, sold them at the bargain price of GBP 0.25 (USD 0.36, EUR 0.32) each in the run-up to Valentine’s Day on 14 February.

“Their [Morrisons’] sales increased by 1,500 percent,” said Jarrad, who added that some fishmongers were somewhat annoyed because they couldn’t match this price and so may have missed out on sales.

Morrisons was selling Pacific or rock oysters (Crassostrea gigas), which are widely available around the U.K.’s coast and are usually sold for at least twice the Valentine’s Day promotion price.

Sales may also have been boosted by the news, also announced last month, that Whole Foods was stocking MSC-certified European oysters (Ostrea edulis) in four of its U.K. outlets, although these are being imported from the Netherlands.

The flat European oyster, or native oyster, is not nearly as plentiful as the Pacific oyster and should also only be sold in the months with an "r" in the name, September to April, to protect them during their spawning season.

Such was the media interest generated by the Morrisons’ and Whole Foods’ announcements, that Xanthe Clay, food writer for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, conducted a “High Street taste test” where oysters from Tesco and Waitrose were compared with the Morrisons’ and Whole Foods’ offerings.

The more expensive (GBP 1.50, USD 2.14, EUR 1.93) Whole Foods MSC certified native oysters came out on top with a score of four stars out of five, with Morrisons and Waitrose (GBP 0.79, USD 1.13, EUR 1.02) next at three stars and Tesco (GBP 0.50, USD 0.71, EUR 0.64) languishing last with two stars.

Clay offered description of the look of the oysters when shucked (opened) and gave her opinion of their taste. However, for the definitive guide to the flavour of oysters on sale throughout Great Britain, the SAGB has conducted exhaustive tests on oysters from 23 different growing areas. These range from the west coast of Scotland down to the south western tip of England and each one had its own distinct flavour.

According to the SAGB guide, tasting oysters is very similar to tasting wine. “Much depends on the environmental conditions in which they are grown and tastes can range from salty to floral, some have fruity notes, mineral flavour or even hints of spice.”

SAGB awarded scores for nose, body and finish although unlike wine a score for texture was also included. In fact, the SAGB recommends chewing an oyster “a little bit” and then, like wine, “take in a little air to allow the flavours to cross the palate and develop fully."

As well as a tasting guide, the SAGB has also published a booklet of 10 recipes for consumers who may prefer their oysters cooked. These recipes were created by celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. (Fearnley-Whittingstall is also well known for his “Fish Fight” campaign to end the practice of discarding fish at sea.)

The recipe booklet is available on the SAGB website,, where there are also “How to” videos for consumers who are unsure how to choose, store or open oysters available on YouTube:

The SAGB has had a long association with oysters. It was founded as the Oyster Merchants’ and Planters’ Association in 1903 and renamed the Shellfish Association of Great Britain in 1969. The industry’s trade association, it has steadily extended its range of activities from “harvest to sale” in more than a century of support to the industry.

Its membership is composed of shellfish farmers, fishermen, fishermen’s associations, processors, commercial traders and retail companies including restaurants, many of the Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authorities, organizations such as Seafish, academics, scientists, consultants and “anyone with a passion for shellfish.” The SAGB is based at Fishmongers' Hall, which is also home to the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers, in the City of London.

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