Caviar is one of the most expensive foods in the world. One ounce of Beluga caviar can go for well over $200, equivalent to 5 teaspoons of sugar in weight.
Compared to regular fish eggs such as that of salmon or capelin fish, caviar can be up to 40 times more expensive. But why is caviar so expensive, especially compared to other fish eggs?
As we discuss in our Ultimate Guide to Caviar & Roe Prices, there are 5 factors that contribute to the high prices of caviar. This guide examines the five factors and how they translate into very expensive fish eggs.
Note to readers: this article focuses on the price of real caviar: salt-cured, aged eggs from the sturgeon fish family specifically. Fish roe (eggs) from other types of fish is not real caviar and is not expensive – learn more about the differences between caviar and fish roe.
5 Reasons Why Caviar is Expensive
Caviar is expensive for 5 main reasons:
- High rearing (farming) costs
- High labor and processing costs
- Sturgeons do not frequently produce eggs
- Low supply, high demand
- High transportation cost
1. High Rearing (Farming) Costs
The bulk of sturgeon is raised in farms, known as aquaculture. This is due to the fact that many sturgeon species are endangered and in fact, illegal to capture.
Aquaculture is recognized as a much more sustainable and eco-friendly alternative however, it comes with a high price, especially for sturgeon.
Sturgeons take a really long time to mature, up to 30+ years (more on this below). From a farming perspective, that means that you need to feed and care for the sturgeon for up to 30 years before you see a return on your investment.
Sturgeon farms take up huge amounts of space, feed, highly specialized water filtration systems, and other expensive equipment. There are also labor costs to consider associated with the farms from the farmers themselves to the veterinarians.
If it cost a lot of money and time to raise the fish and extract the eggs, it only makes sense for the final product to pass on these high costs to the consumer.
Long Time to Maturity
Did you know that it takes an average of 3 years to determine the sex of a sturgeon? Did you know that it can take over 30 years for a sturgeon to mature and produce eggs?
Below is a sample of the average time to maturity for a sample of different types of sturgeon, the fish that produce caviar.
|Type of Sturgeon||Time to Maturity|
|White||11 to 34 years|
|Kaluga||14 to 23 years|
|Beluga||19 to 22 years|
|Siberian||19 to 20 years|
|Danube||12 to 16 years|
|Starry||8 to 10 years|
|Sterlet||4 to 5 years|
2. Extracting & Processing the Eggs
Once the sturgeon matures, farmers must closely monitor them for eggs. This is done manually by performing an ultrasound on each individual female.
After a female is determined to be carrying eggs, they are extracted and turned into caviar – a labor-intensive process that requires skill and precision.
The extraction process is done by way of slaughter, C-section, or milking. Although slaughtering is the most popular extraction method, the latter two are gaining popularity as they are kill-free methods.
The kill-free methods require even more manual labor, further driving up costs.
|Extraction Method||Labor Intensity||Cost|
The eggs are then manually and carefully filtered in a controlled environment before undergoing the salt-curing process. Finally, the salt-cured sturgeon eggs go through a final aging process of about 3 months before being packaged.
Extracting and processing the caviar is another time-consuming and labor-intensive step in the making of caviar, a major contributor to its price tag.
3. Low Spawning Frequency
Another factor contributing to expensive caviar prices is how often the surgeons can produce eggs. If waiting up to 30 years before collecting the roe isn’t enough, it can take up to 12 years in between spawning events.
Younger female sturgeons can reproduce every 1 to 4 years while mature sturgeons reproduce every 8 to 10 years according to available data.
It’s widely recognized that caviar from more mature surgeons is superior quality and as a result, commands an even higher price.
4. Supply & Demand
Low supply and high demand market conditions always result in one thing: high prices. Caviar is no exception to this simple economic concept.
The global demand for caviar is currently estimated to be worth over $2.4 billion (USD) and is expected to double by 2028, reaching a value of well over $5 billion. In contrast, only 380,000 kilograms of caviar were produced of which 18,000 were from the U.S. according to the latest figures.
The rise of aquaculture in China and the U.S. put downward pressure on caviar prices between 2014 and 2018 and remained flat through 2020.
However, the 2020 COVID pandemic created severe disruptions in supply chains and transport while demand continued to climb rapidly, bringing prices up again.
The rapid and sustained growth in demand for caviar is a result of:
- The increase in disposable income globally
- The increase in demand for luxury products
- The rise in awareness of caviar
- The increased commercial usage (restaurants, hotels, airlines, etc.)
- The surge in demand from the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries
The persistent increase in demand for caviar from individuals, businesses, and industries and the recent supply shocks will continue to contribute to high prices.
5. Transportation Costs
Much of the world’s caviar comes from China, Armenia, Russia, and Europe. Importing the product to the U.S. adds another layer of costs contributing to caviar’s high price.
The caviar must be transported quickly and in a refrigerated environment to preserve its freshness. If caviar was shipped by boat, it would likely arrive already spoiled. Learn more about how long caviar lasts.
The recent rise in fuel costs has been a major factor in the recent rise in caviar prices after a few years of price stability.
- Caviar is expensive because it costs a lot to produce
- The high price of caviar is driven by 5 principal cost drivers
- Farming sturgeon is a lengthy and expensive process
- Extracting and processing the eggs require a lot of manual labor
- Sturgeons do not spawn frequently
- Strong and increasing demand is driving up prices
- High transportation contributes to high pricing
- CaviarKelp.com Research
- EUMOFA – The Caviar Market (2021)
- Data Bridge – Global Caviar Market – Industry Trends and Forecast to 2028
- GVR – Caviar Market Size & Share, Global Industry Report, 2019-2025
- American Fisheries Society – Spawning Drivers and Frequency of Endangered Atlantic Sturgeon in the York River System
- Characteristics of the Reproductive Cycle of Wild Acipenser sturio