In China the hairy crab has long been a delicacy, but the pandemic has taken the crustacean to epic new heights. Prices for the palm-sized crabs have doubled since last year, and now some folks are forking out hundreds of dollars for a box.
The hairy crab—also known as the Chinese mitten crab—weighs a little over 10 oz and is prized for it’s sweet meat and buttery roe. And because it’s only available a few weeks each year in the fall, acute demand for the little treats really drives up prices. They’re usually given as gifts to government officials and loved ones, but, in the wake of Covid-19, those stuck at home are treating themselves to the tasty luxury. Buyers traditionally prepare the crabs by steaming them and then serving them with vinegar, ginger and rice.
A box of eight hairy crabs can cost as much as $400 (¥2,700). This year, however, the bestseller is priced at $240 (¥1,600), eclipsing 2019 prices by a hefty $120 (¥800). Furthermore, overall demand is expected to reach a staggering $22.5 billion (¥150 billion) in 2020, as reported by Bloomberg. It totaled roughly $18 billion (¥120 billion) in 2019.
The influx comes as many wealthy Chinese consumers modify their spending habits on account of Covid-19. With the high-end boutiques of Paris, Milan and New York off-limits, the country’s big spenders are instead dropping their cash on domestic luxuries, like the hairy crab.
At the same time, improvements in e-commerce operations and logistics mean that the crustaceans can now be shipped to customers all over China. (Most of the supply used to be limited to the Shanghai area.) A new company called Cainiao, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., can pack the fresh crabs into gift boxes and deliver them to domestic buyers within just two days of receiving orders. Alibaba’s Taobao platform can also ship crabs to customers in Singapore.
Now, if Alibaba could just bring the crabs Stateside…