For lobster lovers, now is the good old days
Fortune Magazine is reporting that the wholesale, boat-side price of a lobster, $2.25 a pound, has dropped below that of an eight-pack of turkey hot dogs. An industry expert tells me this is a gross exaggeration, but that the price has in reality dropped a considerable 30-40%. I'm already putting on my bib and melting my butter; on a Monday, yet, with no celebration in sight.
Apparently much of the U.S. shares the belief that lobster and a lean wallet are incompatible, because demand is down by around a third in restaurants. Another factor hurting this market is the Icelandic banks. They usually helped fund the large lobster processors in Canada, and the drying up of this credit has hamstrung those operations.
The supply of snappy goodness is also on the rise, contributing to the price decline. Last year, Maine lobster-men pulled up 6% more catch than in 2007. This is consistent with the steady growth in population of the crustaceans over the past two decades, since the minimum size for harvesting was increased in 1988. Before then, 90% of the lobsters caught were too young to have reproduced.
Lee Kressback is owner of MaineLobsterDirect.com, which wholesales and retails lobster in Maine as well as supplying them commercially throughout the country. It also sells them via the Internet, including home delivery anywhere of live lobsters. He's been in business for 15 years in Portland, Maine, dealing directly with independent lobster-men to cherry-pick the best of harvest.
Kressback compares the lobster market to oil, in that many people use the short lived peak in prices to dramatize the price drop. Fortune Magazine, for example, compares today's prices with $10 lobster, but that was not the average price in 2006. It's claim that lobster-men are paid $2.25 a pound, he says, is misleading as well, since they are also later paid a bonus of 25-50 cents by the wharf which buys their catch.
I asked Kressback if he has seen any sign that his market is turning around. He told me that "from October through April of this year, virtually every customer, while placing their order, said "Should I be doing this?"" Now, however, they are seeing a cautious return of those who clearly have the money to afford lobster. Those customers who were straining their budgets, perhaps to the breaking point, haven't come back.
My take? Don't expect stores to start giving away a free lobster with each box of cereal sold. However, the drop in price makes it a much more appealing meal option, and if you're ever going to binge on lobster and you have some spare cash, now is the time.