Freshwater pearls: Yarra Valley Caviar’s premium salmon roe debuts at Harrods


Yarra Valley Caviar’s hand-milked freshwater salmon pearls from the rivers of Victoria are well known to chefs, provedores and retail customers in Australia.

However, the product has come as an exciting surprise for European customers. They first tasted the premium salmon roe at Barcelona’s Seafood Expo Global event in 2023.

Europe immediately began outselling other export markets, says Co-owner and National Business Development Manager, Nick Gorman. ‘Customers seemed to be blown away. They kept saying they didn’t know you could get salmon roe of this quality.’

UK customers can experience the taste for themselves now that Yarra Valley Caviar is available in Harrods. The product is also available through UK premium food retailer Fine & Wild.

A group of two men and two women standing at a podium. displaying a range of Yarra Valley Caviar products.

Left to right: Harrods buyer Harry Houghton, chef Scott Hallsworth of Freak Scene restaurants, tasting expert Angeline Goldhill, and Ana Nishnianidze, Trade and Investment Commissioner for Austrade, gather at the official launch of Yarra Valley Caviar in Harrods.

Hand-milking and humane aquaculture

Customers may be familiar with salmon roe. It is often a by-product stripped from fish harvested for seafood.

However, Yarra Valley Caviar’s product is milked by hand from female salmon and trout in spawning season. The fish are first milked at around 3 years old and can continue to spawn each year for another 6 or 7 years.

It is a labour-intensive process. Each fish is netted by hand then sedated in a clove oil bath. The roe is then massaged from its belly. The fish is revived in a medicated oxygen bath before being returned to the pond.

The delicate eggs are immediately cleaned to remove any impurities such as broken shells. They are then brined, packed into jars and pasteurised using an in-house technique. Some of the product will be blast frozen so it stays fresh for transport around the world.

This year for the first time, Yarra Valley Caviar will introduce a packing machine. All other steps are done by hand. With upwards of 35-40 tonnes being harvested, May is a busy time on the farms. There are no plans to automate any of the other steps.

‘Harvesting by hand is necessary to minimise the risk of harming the fish,’ says Gorman.

Healthy clean operations and being good neighbours

The rest of the company’s operations are also aimed at keeping the fish healthy and stress-free.

Stocking densities are kept low to avoid overcrowding and minimise risk of disease. ‘We don’t need to use antibiotics to keep fish healthy and we avoid overfeeding them,’ says Gorman.

The ponds on the Rubicon River are gravity-fed and flushed by the river. Farm operations run largely on solar power.

In addition to being good commercial sense, these practices help ensure water quality. The water is monitored and audited to Environmental Protection Agency standards and Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) certification.

‘We’re really conscious that we’re only borrowing the water from the river,’ explains Gorman. ‘We want to put it back in good condition.’

Addressing export challenges with Austrade’s support

One of Yarra Valley Caviar’s export challenges has been forming the right relationships with distributors and helping them sell the product.

‘Austrade’s support of global trade events helps us connect to our distributors and customers in person,’ says Gorman. These events include Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Gulf Food and London’s International Food & Drink Event.

‘I don’t think we would have been able to get to Barcelona if not for Austrade,’ says Gorman. ‘Not only did that help us launch in Europe, we’ve just started supplying another international distributor we met there.’

Yarra Valley Caviar’s distributor in the UK is Saqua Seafood. The company represents several premium Australian seafood exporters in the UK market. Emma Cazaly, Operations Director for Saqua Seafood, confirms that it’s been a good year for Australian seafood in the UK.

When the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) entered into force in May 2023, the removal of tariffs on most seafood meant Australia’s premium, unique offerings became more competitive in the market. Upon entry into force, the A-UKFTA removed the 20% tariff on salmon and trout roe.

‘Quality-wise, Yarra Valley Caviar has sat far above any other salmon roe in the UK market for some years,’ says Cazaly. ‘But it wasn’t until the A-UKFTA entered into force that commercial opportunities properly stacked up.

‘The launch in Harrods and Fine & Wild is an exciting new chapter for Yarra Valley Caviar. In the short term, we expect significant outcomes for the company in the UK’s sizeable premium restaurant sector.’

Plans for sustainable growth

Exports are still a small part of Yarra Valley Caviar’s business. The company is keen to diversify into new markets and spread commercial risk.

‘Yarra Valley Caviar will always limit capacity on our farms to what is sustainable and healthy for the fish,’ says Gorman. ‘Growing means we need to get a new farm up and running.’

Gorman says the company is looking at farming more trout.

‘We have some new flavours to explore, and since the pandemic we have quite a busy online store to support. We’re not looking to slow down any time soon.’

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