Do you know how to shuck an oyster? Odds are you don’t, but a NSW oyster farmer is on a mission to change Australia’s oyster culture so shucking becomes the norm! Nuffield Scholar Ben Ralston, a fifth generation oyster farmer from Bateman’s Bay, says while it’s an ambitious target, changing the approach to oysters so that branding, fresh shucking and premium prices become part of the experience will benefit everyone from the farmer to the consumer.
Mr Ralston’s 2014 Nuffield Scholarship, sponsored by the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC), allowed him to investigate what would be needed to change Australia’s oyster culture. His report outlines the findings from his two year scholarship, which included travel to the United States, Ireland and France.
“A changing culture, education and a robust supply chain are three very important features of Australia’s oyster industry. In the past, the majority of Australian farmers sold live oysters in bulk to processors, who would pre-shuck the oyster. This method is becoming less valued and has lower profit margins at the farm gate. Through my travels, I have clearly seen that the majority of the world is selling oysters live and having them shucked to order at restaurants and markets, or taken home and shucked in household kitchens.”
Mr Ralston says the reason behind this is the oyster remains alive until it has been shucked and then can be served in its own natural juice. In some of the countries he visited it is actually against the law to serve or handle oysters the same way Australians do.
“The aim of my study is to remodel the local supply chain to add value, and to build on the way oysters are currently handled and presented in Australia. A stronger supply chain could add value for everyone. Farmers will win by changing their supply chain to a value chain, restaurants and markets will win by selling higher quality oysters, and the consumers win by getting value for money and a better experience.”
Mr Ralston says selling oysters isn’t simple retail.
“When consumers buy flowers they buy through emotions or how the flowers make them feel, but when consumers buy oysters they are buying a good experience. Shucking your own oysters and getting the true oyster flavour with a glass of wine creates that experience, and we as farmers need to realise we are selling that, not just oysters.”