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Luxury food industry turns sour amid global coronavirus lockdowns

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SINGAPORE/TOKYO/PARIS (Reuters) – Global demand for premium foods like wagyu beef, bluefin tuna and caviar has plunged with thousands of restaurants shuttered and many economies sliding into recession amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As strict lockdown measures to contain the outbreak ravage global economic activity, the luxury food industry could be among the worst hit since it heavily relies on restaurants and top hotels for demand for deluxe items from caviar to champagne.

While some gourmet food producers are tapping consumers directly to stay afloat, others have been forced to cut output as some products have lost nearly half their value since the start of the year.

Jean-Marie Barillere, co-chairman of champagne producers’ lobby CIVC in France, said he hoped people would celebrate the easing of lockdown with a bottle of champagne, but expected a difficult end to the year.

“This is really a period that looks like a war time,” he said.

Bookings data compiled by OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service, showed a near 80% year-on-year decline in seated diners at restaurants in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Mexico this year.

People are also less likely to consume luxury foods when stuck at home in the middle of a health crisis and worried about their financial situation, or under clinical social distancing measures as eateries reopen.

“People will not want to taste a Chateau Petrus wine, a lobster or caviar under a bell jar,” said Michel Berthommier, managing director of Caviar Perlita in southwestern France.

“If you force people to eat in these conditions they will prefer going to fast foods.”

Deep discounts

Premium foods was “one of the worst hit sectors worldwide”, said Ole Houe, director of advisory services at agriculture brokerage IKON Commodities in Sydney. He said he did not expect a prompt recovery given many countries were in recession.

Falling demand has already taken a toll on the prices of luxury items.

In Tokyo, the price of top quality wagyu beef cuts has fallen about 30% from a year earlier, bluefin tuna – considered the best in Japan – has dropped more than 40% over that period, while prices of the famed ‘Earl’s melons’ from Shizuoka have slumped 30%.

Russia’s top sturgeon breeding company – Russian Caviar House – meanwhile was offering a 30% discount for Beluga hybrid caviar.

“Spring and summer are always low seasons for the caviar market, but if we compare this period with previous years, the sales in Russia are down 50%,” said the firm’s owner Alexander Novikov.

In France, caviar prices languished near historic lows, champagne sales tumbled, while foie gras producers have had to cut output to prop up prices.

Cifog, a foie gras producers’ group, said restaurants account for 40% of total foie gras sales.

“Mid-March it felt like the sky had fallen on us,” said Florian Boucherie, who produces 2 tonnes of foie gras per year in France.

Oyster and razor clam fishermen from Cape Cod and other top fishing grounds have also had to curb catches as lockdowns upended global eating habits.

Going down

To plug the yawning gap left by eateries, many high-end food producers are attempting to reach consumers directly via e-commerce platforms.

Others are steering more produce onto supermarket shelves.

“We are accelerating our supply of products into some of the world’s largest supermarkets, gourmet butchers and direct to consumers online,” said Hugh Killen, chief executive of Australia’s largest listed beef producer, Australian Agricultural Company (AAC.AX).

But some vendors say selling to supermarkets is far less profitable than selling to high-end restaurants.

In Japan, top sushi chefs pay 400,000 yen ($3,737.97) for 10kg of the best cuts of tuna compared to the 25,000 yen paid by supermarkets for 10kg of lower value cuts, said Yukitaka Yamaguchi, owner of Yamayuki tuna brokerage at Toyosu Market in Tokyo.

He said “the best part of (the) tuna” was usually sold first to high-end sushi restaurants but when these closed the “harakami had nowhere to go.” They eventually started offering high-quality tuna to fish retailers and supermarkets.

For now, Yamaguchi has had to park plans to retire as he has accumulated debt during the pandemic.

“I had planned to retire when I turn 60, but that’s no longer possible,” he said.

Reporting and photo: Reuters

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Pulse Hotels & Resorts unveils new residential project: The Coral Residences, Kandima

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Pulse Hotels & Resorts, one of the leading innovators in Maldives tourism, has introduced The Coral Residences, Kandima. Nestled on the northern end of the lush and green three-kilometre-long Kandima Integrated Island Resort in Dhaalu Atoll, this residential development is a first of its kind and promises to redefine luxury living in the Maldives.

Designed and crafted with meticulous attention to detail, The Coral Residences, Kandima, is a unique, integrated beachfront residential community with exceptional 5-star service, situated in the shimmering blue heart of the Maldives.

The Coral Residences comprises of 40 exquisitely designed two bedroom and three bedroom apartments. All apartments feature contemporary design and chic interiors, high-end finishes, state-of-the-art appliances, and unobstructed panoramic sea views across the Indian Ocean. Residence owners will enjoy exclusive access to a host of premium facilities, including a private beachfront pool, a gourmet restaurant and bar, dedicated fitness and recreation facilities and a 24-hour concierge service.

Buyers of The Coral Residences will be able to own their apartments under the new strata title ownership program. Owners’ apartments will be part a rental program, managed by Pulse Hotels & Resorts. Residents will have the access to the full range Kandima’s 5-star resort services, including its restaurants and bars, spa, recreation, and other amenities to complement their lifestyle. With its emphasis on comfort, convenience, and community, this development offers a truly elevated living experience.

“We are thrilled to introduce The Coral Residences, Kandima, to discerning local and international buyers,” said Sanjay Maniku, Managing Director of Pulse Hotels & Resorts. “With its unparalleled design and amenities, homeowners can take advantage of a limitless world of activities and experiences on offer at Kandima. We believe this development will set a new standard for luxury living in the Maldives, as well as bringing a new definition to the Maldives family vacation.”

The Coral Residences is realised by Pulse Hotels & Resorts, the creators behind The Nautilus Maldives, Kandima Maldives, and Nova Maldives. Known for their innovative hospitality concepts, Pulse Hotels & Resorts ensures that each property offers exceptional experiences and world-class service. The development has commenced and is expected to complete within Q3, 2025.

For more information, high-resolution images, and to schedule a private viewing, please contact Aishath Ihuma, Director of Business Development at +960 7788986 or aishath.ihuma@coralresidencesmaldives.com.

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Weixin Pay supported to boost Chinese tourists to Maldives

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On May 27, Zihuny Rasheed, Deputy Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC/Visit Maldives), and Etienne Ng, Weixin Pay’s Country Manager, Singapore and Regional Director, Southeast Asia, WeChat Pay, signed a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) during ITB China 2024, pledging to support more Maldivian merchants to accept WeixinPay to provide Chinese tourists with a convenient payment experience. Visit Maldives is the Official Destination Partner for this year’s edition of ITB China.

“China is a key source of tourists for the Maldives, and we greatly value the experience of Chinese visitors,” said DMD Zihuny Rasheed. “We plan on promoting the acceptance of Weixin Pay throughout the country, offering Chinese tourists the payment option they are familiar with and prefer. I have used Weixin Pay during my visit to China via linking an international card, and I can attest to the convenience of the mobile payment option.”

Ibrahim Faisal, Minister of Tourism of the Maldives, expressed his support, “Excited that we’re introducing Weixin Pay for Chinese visitors, which is another step in establishing Maldives as their top destination. Now, it’s easier than ever for Chinese travellers to enjoy their stay, hassle-free. We look forward to further enhancing their experience,” he wrote.

According to Etienne Ng, Weixin Pay is currently being piloted at the country’s airport duty-free store, as well as in popular restaurants like Sala Thai and City Garden. Additionally, a range of hotels and resorts are participating including, JEN Maldives Malé by Shangri-La, Adaaran Select HudhuranFushi, Adaaran Club Rannalhi, Adaaran Prestige Vadoo, Adaaran Prestige Water Villas, Velaa Private Island, Cheval Blanc Randheli Private Island, Dhawa Ihuru Maldives, Ayada Maldives, Marriott Bonvoy, Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and Angsana Velavaru in Maldives with strong support from the Bank of Maldives and local merchants. Making smooth progress, the initiative is expected to have 8,000 merchants nationwide that integrate the payment option.

“Weixin Pay is committed to providing users with safe and convenient payment services. Since the visa exemption policy was implemented, more and more Weixin Pay users have chosen to travel to the island country. Through our cooperation with Visit Maldives, we aim to provide Chinese users with the same convenient experience in the travel as they experience at home,” he said.

In February 2023, an Agreement on Mutual Exemption of Visa Requirements signed between the Maldives and China took effect as China expands its visa-free policy to benefit more countries. Consequently, the Maldives has consistently ranked among the top overseas destinations for Chinese tourists during popular travel periods such as the May Day and National Day holidays.

According to data from Visit Maldives, the country welcomed over 1.8 million tourists in 2023, a new national record. The Chinese market has been a key source market for the Maldives. As of 11th May 2024, it is the number one source market with 91,073 tourist arrivals.

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Indian influencer Niki Mehra in Maldives

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Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC/ Visit Maldives) hosted a familiarisation trip with Amilla Maldives for high-end influencer, Niki Mehra, from India to experience the luxury and romantic offerings of the Maldives from 3rd – 6th May 2024.

The familiarisation trip was a great opportunity to Niki Mehra, a renowned Indian model, fashion, beauty and travel content creator and social media influencer with over half a million followers who has carved a niche in the Indian fashion industry with her unique sense of style. During her time in the Sunny Side of Life, Niki Mehra showcased luxury to romantic experiences of the destination.

The trip promoted Maldives through social media platforms of Niki Mehra while highlighting experiential itinerary offerings of the Maldives. Additionally, the influencer trip assisted MMPRC in propelling growth in the luxury travel segment and honeymoon market by showcasing the Maldives as a premier honeymoon destination for the Indian travellers.

The Indian market has been a strong market for the Maldives over the years, currently ranked number 6 with 46,970 tourists as of 13th May 2024. Additionally, MMPRC showcased the Maldives in OTM and SATTE held earlier this year. MMPRC is committed to boosting the arrivals from the market and has exciting marketing activities planned for future, including joint campaigns, familiarisation trips, participation in major events and other campaigns which provides numerous opportunities to showcase the breathtaking Maldives to the market, attracting more Indian travellers.

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