Expert casts doubt on Aldi caviar claims

Emma Woollacott

If you thought there was something fishy about Aldi's offer of Beluga caviar for just £9.99, it looks as if you may be right.

Last month, the cut-price supermarket launched its latest attempt to woo the middle classes: 20-gram packs of so-called Beluga caviar, to go on sale in the run-up to Christmas. It certainly seemed to good to be true: Fortnum and Mason sells farmed Beluga caviar for a whacking £143 for the same amount.

And now an expert has claimed that the public is being misled. "There is not a farm on the planet that can sell Beluga caviar for Aldi's claimed price," Kenneth Benning, who runs online retailer London Fine Foods and the UK's only caviar farm, Exmoor Caviar, tells the Independent.

Beluga caviar must come only from the Huso huso sturgeon, according to the World Health Organisation's international food standards rules. The Huso huso sturgeon is found only in the Caspian, Adriatic and Black seas - and, because it takes at least 18 years to sexually mature and produce eggs in captivity - up to 35 years in the wild - its roe is rare and expensive.

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How to Produce Caviar
How to Produce Caviar

As a result, many farms are now attempting to cross Huso huso sturgeons with other faster-breeding varieties such as Sterlet or Baeri. "However a hybrid cross such as 'Huso Sterlet' is not such a headline grabbing name as the well-known 'Beluga' caviar," says Benning.

Aldi has conceded that this is the case. "Amur Beluga caviar comes from Amur Beluga sturgeon, a hybrid of the Amur sturgeon and the river Beluga sturgeon," explained a spokesman. "The packaging explains the origin of the caviar, and we are confident that people will enjoy this special treat on Christmas Day."

Aldi has focused hard on attracting middle-class shoppers - and is succeeding, with figures from Verdict market research indicating that they now make up 16.8% of shoppers in the store. Along with the caviar, the store is promoting several other luxury items in a Christmas range that will appear in the shops this December. They include scallops, whole goose and lobster.

Separately, it's planning to introduce a range of organic fruit and vegetables, along with Angus 30 Day Aged Sirloin Steak, and a cold pressed rapeseed oil.

The store has won several awards for its luxury product ranges. This summer, the Grocer magazine awarded it 16 gold medals for the quality of its own-brand products, ahead of Waitrose, M&S and even Harrods. It also named it as the UK's best grocer for the second year running. Will customers mind that its caviar isn't the highest quality? Probably not.

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