Chinese buyers snapped up more than 140,000 live Canadian lobsters within 24 hours last week through a Beijing-based online retailer, and the demand can only grow, says a New Brunswick supplier.

The live lobsters came from a variety of sources for the sale July 14 on jd.com, one of the largest e-commerce websites in the world.

'They believe if they are alive and are of good quality, they are from Canada.' - Nathan Song, Bay Shore Lobster

According to a news release from the company, the surge in lobster purchases was part of a sale promoting fresh food from Canada, which also included cherries and blueberries among the offerings.

"They want 10,000 pounds a day," said Nathan Song, director of the New Brunswick-based Bay Shore Lobster Ltd., one of the suppliers for the website. "The first stage of the promotion is five days a week, so that's around 50,000 pounds from just us."

Song, who was born in China, said the country has recently emerged as a lucrative market for lobster. Restaurant owners and home chefs alike hold Canadian lobster in high regard, so much so, they are willing to pay a heavy premium on shipping, he said.

"The people in China like the live ones," Song said. "They believe if they are alive and are of good quality, they are from Canada. So people will pay more money than for other countries' [lobsters]."

Normally, Bay Shore catches enough lobster to have a year-round supply, but with the Chinese demand, the company in Back Bay could sell out by October, Song said.

Strengthening ties

Premier Brian Gallant paid a visit to executives of the website, which is host to 236 million active users, in Beijing last October to promote New Brunswick-based food products.

The Canadian promotion coincides with an event at JD headquarters, where a "Canadian fresh food pavilion" is serving samples of lobster, blueberries and cherries. At the end of July, JD will be holding seminars in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver for businesses interested in selling products through jd.com.

lobbos

Live lobsters are prepared to ship out of Bay Shore Lobster Ltd.'s Back Bay plant. (Submitted/Nathan Song)

Song said it is no secret China is a powerful buyer, but the opportunity for wider distribution there is often forgotten about.

"We have 1.4 billion people, and the live lobster market is only open to about five per cent of the main country now," he said. "There is lots of opportunity to open an even wider market."

Rapid growth

China is the second biggest importer of Canadian lobster next to America. Demand for the crustacean in China has more than quadrupled since 2011, going from buying about $27.5 million worth of lobster that year to about $162.8 million in 2016.

Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada, said exports of lobster to China have rapidly increased "in the last six or eight years," although there are some catches to the success.

"There's a debate in the Canadian industry about the profitability of the e-commerce channel," Irvine said. "The demand is good, but they don't return the best prices. It's a volume market, not a value market."

However, Irvine said, if a facility is able to produce high volumes of lobster, China's burgeoning middle class can provides the demand for a huge supply of Atlantic Lobster.