‘Tis the season for shopping and in England lobster is flying off supermarket shelves. Industry expert, The Grocer, has forecast that this Christmas lobster could be more popular than turkey in the UK. And Brits certainly have been splashing out on seafood over the last several weeks. When UK Supermarket Lidl starting promoting their ‘Christmas lobster’ in late November, they sold 15,000 in a single day and 55,000 in the first week. But what does this mean for the Maine lobster industry?
Lobster sales are exploding in the UK but unfortunately Maine is, for the most part, not benefitting from this lobster boom. All the lobster being sold at Lidl supermarket is Canadian. One cannot even argue that some of these lobsters come from Maine, given that the Lidl ‘Christmas lobsters’ are all 72 mm (2.8 inch) ‘canners’ which are much smaller than the 3.25 inch size minimum for saleable lobster in Maine.
In 2014, the UK imported 2,600 tons of lobster from around the world. Not only is this figure a 37% increase since 2009 but UK lobster imports are likely to continue growing at a healthy rate for the foreseeable future. British supermarket Tesco is already reporting a 25% increase in demand for its lobster in 2015 versus last year.
Beyond grocery stores, restaurants serving lobster in the UK are doing a roaring trade. When I first wrote about UK restaurant chain Burger & Lobster in 2014, they had already become the world’s largest buyer of Canadian lobster. At the time, they had five restaurant locations in London. They now have 12 UK locations, with another restaurant set to open in the spring, in addition to outposts in Sweden, Kuwait and New York City.
While the UK will always be a much smaller lobster importer than China due to its size, the global influence and economic stability of Great Britain are important assets to consider as we trade and market Maine lobster on a global scale. I certainly don’t have all the answers as to how Maine can crack the UK lobster market and appreciate that trade agreements between countries can make things complex but I do think the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. As summed up in my previous article on the London lobster boom:
“I am excited at how the stratospheric rise of lobster in London will potentially influence dining trends in the Middle East, Far East and beyond. At the same time I worry that, to date, the London lobster boom has no links to the Maine lobster brand. While there is room for many players in this market and, as the old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, I worry Maine lobster could get left behind if we don’t strike while the iron is hot. As most Maine residents will agree, there are differences among lobsters based on where they are caught and how they are treated during and after harvest. I would love to see some effort to educate the multi-cultural consumers of London on the Maine lobster brand. Otherwise, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, they will be left thinking a lobster is a lobster is a lobster!”