Marky’s Caviar CEO Mark Zaslavsky and Marky’s Caviar Brand Ambassador David Bashkov joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how COVID-19 has impacted the caviar and gourmet retail market.
ADAM SHAPIRO: We think big eating on a celebratory night might be some sour cream with salmon fish eggs, right on top of a potato pancake. The patricians among us know that true caviar is the way to go with your champagne. So let's bring in two folks who have really just brought a revolution into how all of us can enjoy the best of the best when it comes to caviar and that's Mark Zaslavsky from Marky's Caviar Group. He's the CEO, as well as David Bashkov, Mark's grandson and also Mark's caviar brand ambassador.
And you should know that what these two gentlemen are doing not only harvesting traditional beluga, the most prized variety of caviar in the world, but they're growing the relatives of the ancient sturgeon in northern Florida. So let me start with you, Mark. How did you get around doing this? I mean this is the stuff you can't import into the United States, you're growing it in the United States. Is it the same essential caviar you'd get that used to come from the Caspian Sea?
MARK ZASLAVSKY: Yes, we start our company founded in 1983 as a small retail store. We were selling different products and then we came-- become distributors of caviar. Probably because of my heavy accent, chefs would ask us for caviar. So we were importing caviar from Russia, Soviet Union for many years.
Close to 2000 we understood that caviar will be coming to the end and we decided to bring Caspian Sea to northern Florida. Historically, Russia and Iran were capitals of the world for caviar. So we actually move this capital to the United States. In 2001 we created a sturgeon aqua farm, in 2003 we brought fish to the United States and 2000-- probably 2003 we reproduce fish and we had more than 20,000 beluga in our backyard in northern Florida. And that's what we have.
ADAM SHAPIRO: It's impressive. It's impressive.
SIBILE MARCELLUS: And have you actually succeeded in reducing our dependency on Russian and Iranian caviar at this point? Do we have enough here in America?
MARK ZASLAVSKY: Yes, we're-- thank you for asking, we are very close to doing. In 2018 we are prepared for harvesting beluga and we had probably over 1,000 fish mature and unfortunately on October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael, category five hurricane entered our farm from, came from the Gulf of Mexico and we lost about 75% of our fish, mature fish. So it kind of moved our production to 2020. This is the first year that American beluga caviar, real beluga, beluga huso huso was produced in the United States. We had the egg and from egg we created egg caviar.
ADAM SHAPIRO: David. David, this is a remarkable story and I'm looking forward to trying this at some point because I've always heard stories about caviar. $400 an ounce is that about how much this would cost? I would imagine when it was imported it was what, around a couple thousand dollars an ounce. But what are the price ranges and how do you eat it? What's the best way to eat it?
DAVID BASHKOV: Yeah, so right now a kilo retail price for beluga caviar is at $24,000 for grade 00. So there's many grades to caviars and the current grade, which we have it's $24,000 a kilo. And the best way to serve caviar I tell people is have it alone on a mother of pearl spoon. You really want to indulge into the delicacy for what it truly is. And after that you can really add anything you want. Caviar is a great component as a substitute also like for salt so I recommend trying it first on its own to really get the best of what it truly is, its flavor profile, its characteristics, textures, and then you can pair it with some blinis, creme fraiche, the traditional way and put it on your bagel, smoked salmon, your eggs.
SIBILE MARCELLUS: I really like the idea of caviar instead of salt. Or yeah, just a difference in price there but yeah, absolutely, let's replace all salt with caviar. But, Mark, I wanted to ask you, what has been the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on caviar because it's such a specialty food, have you seen a hit to sales?
MARK ZASLAVSKY: Yes, what happened was COVID-19, cruise lines stopped working. We lost all the customers, cruise lines, airline. We lost more than 900 large hotels and restaurants. We lost casinos and hotels in casinos. We lost small distributors, distributors only concentrating on other distributors to the restaurant. At the same time, we had some increase in sales in our retail and on our website. David can probably tell you more about social media and website but yes.
ADAM SHAPIRO: David, because we have limited time, I am curious, people should go to the website, they can Google Marky's Caviar Group and it's more than just the beluga caviar that you're selling. There's smoked salmon, all kinds of stuff. So you know, David, who's buying? Is it younger people, people who-- my grandmother was from Kiev, so is it people who knew this back in the old country?
DAVID BASHKOV: Yes, so you know a lot of our customers, they're organic customers that we've built from over the years and we, our customers tend to be from very young to much older demographic of people. And now little by little you know, with social media, the help of Instagram and Twitter we are trying to educate and knowledge the younger millennials on these gourmet delicacies but our customers range from you know, much older, elderly people, to even younger, young adults and even some teenagers.