Bells Isle feeling slump in Chinese demand for European oysters

Bells Isle oysters
Bells Isle oysters | Photo courtesy of Bells Isle
4 Min

A leading Irish producer and exporter of oysters to the Chinese market is facing a drop in demand.

Donegal, Ireland-based Bells Isle ships Irish oysters to Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai under the Unique and Bells Isle Oysters brands. Des Moore, the company’s CEO, said imports of European oysters into China have “dropped dramatically” in recent months.

“Sales of European oysters are down probably 40 percent” in China, Moore told SeafoodSource.

Bells Isle resumed shipping to the Chinese market in May 2023 after the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

“One year later, I continue to sell 2,000 kilograms plus per week into China. My price is reasonable, and the quality is quite good and demand is stable,” he said. “I’m reasonably happy overall.”

But, Moore said China’s economic downturn has pushed importers to be more demanding on quality and value. China’s seafood market has been characterized thus far in 2024 by low price growth, with stronger demand for cheaper products.

According to Moore, the French oyster brand Gillardeau – recently purchased by Mericq as part of its acquisition of Maison Blanc – has struggled as a result. 

“Gillardeau has dropped price, but this hasn’t stopped the gradual decrease in their sales,” he said. “Likewise, in Europe, a similar pattern is to be seen.”

Moore said his cargo costs are “slightly more competitive” than French flights to China but said he has weaned himself from reliance on China after dealing with red tape during the Covid pandemic.

“We continue to focus on mainland Europe, with a distribution depot in Belgium that is working quite well,” he said.

Moore said he’s also been hurt by global economic woes, and in January, Ireland raised its minimum wage, leading to complaints from businesses across the country that doing so would compound the issue of rising costs.

“Inflation in every aspect of business life has made it ever more difficult to be profitable,” Moore said.

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