Last Updated on February 2, 2024
The caviar industry today is a complex landscape of tradition and modernity, luxury and accessibility. Once a symbol of opulence reserved for the elite, caviar has undergone a significant transformation. The industry has expanded beyond its traditional confines, grappling with the challenges of sustainable farming, environmental impact, and changing consumer preferences. In this evolving market, the demand for caviar that is not only exquisite but also responsibly sourced and accessible has become increasingly prominent.
Enter Christian Sandefeldt, a culinary virtuoso whose career spans over four decades, and whose expertise has taken him across continents. His career took flight in London, where he and his wife made a mark in some of the world’s best restaurants before venturing into successful entrepreneurship with their own acclaimed establishments and a thriving events business. In 2018, Christian’s path took a pivotal turn as he acquired and rebranded a caviar farm, leading to an impressive 300% growth of his business, even amidst the challenges of a global pandemic.
Our recent interview with Christian Sandefeldt delved into his unique chef-driven, consumer-centric approach in the caviar industry. Unlike many in his field, Christian’s approach is not defined by the traditional business or cultural norms. Instead, his chef-driven perspective brings a nuanced understanding of caviar’s culinary potential, elevating it beyond a mere luxury item to an integral part of a gastronomic experience. His methodology is a dance of finesse and sustainability, focusing on the quality and versatility of caviar while emphasizing its sustainable sourcing and environmental impact.
Christian’s vision extends to democratizing caviar, making this luxury more accessible without compromising its esteemed status. He challenges the industry’s status quo, critiquing the excessive investments in non-essential extravagances and redirecting the focus to the product’s culinary significance. His approach strips away the superficial layers of branding, concentrating on the substance and quality of caviar. By merging his culinary expertise with a strong consumer-focused vision, Christian effectively bridges the gap between artisanal quality and consumer accessibility.
Join us as we delve deeper into Christian Sandefeldt’s innovative approach, which has redefined standards in the caviar industry.
Hello, Christian. We’re excited to dive right in! Tell us, how has your experience and background as a chef influenced your approach to the caviar industry, particularly in terms of product selection and presentation?
No fish farming is without risk to the environment, but getting involved in the industry through Carelian Caviar was a huge benefit. The farm in Varkaus was, and probably still is, the most technically advanced and environmentally friendly farm in the world. Less than 0.5% of water escaped the building, and that was after being purified – more water escaped through evaporation. When you work with a number of people who approach sustainability from different areas of expertise, you realize how much there is to consider. We don’t use any marketing material like brochures, as we try to go completely paperless, which is proving difficult in a country that develops almost all new technology.
In a market often dominated by traditional business approaches, how do you leverage your chef-driven perspective to differentiate your caviar products and services?
We avoid all traditional caviar packaging and labeling, and we don’t produce 20-page coffee table brochures. Our office is very minimalistic, and when we have presentations, we focus on the product, not a way of life. Caviar is, of course, a luxury and should always be seen as such, but it should also be made more accessible.
When meeting with chefs, we always emphasize this and encourage them to try caviar that isn’t necessarily the huge yellow eggs, which have become the norm since the Chinese dominated the market. We try to get chefs to treat caviar like any other product, which varies in quality and flavor. At the moment, too many chefs use it merely to add luxury to their dishes.
Can you discuss how your focus on the consumer experience shapes the way you market and sell caviar, especially in terms of making it more accessible?
My recent response covers much of this question. However, in terms of retail sales, we concentrate on the history of caviar and why we are now almost exclusively dealing with farmed products. Hardly any consumers are aware that caviar is now only farmed and that 80% of what they buy comes from China.
What inspired you to critique and move away from the industry’s traditional focus on extravagance, such as opulent retail spaces and lavish packaging?
In a market that often competes on price, with a large part of chefs not prioritizing quality, it would be difficult to sell the caviar I buy since it comes from smaller, more expensive farms. Furthermore, I think it’s disrespectful to the customer. It would seem odd to me if my vegetable supplier were to land his private jet nearby and take his Rolls Royce Phantom to my restaurant just to make a point about the quality of his produce. This kind of behavior seems unique to the caviar business.
I’m digressing a bit, but it’s only in the caviar business that when you approach a chef with the promise of an excellent product, you might get the response, “No thank you, I already have a caviar supplier.” When I was a chef, I always welcomed trying new suppliers, as I constantly strived to improve. It makes you wonder if there’s anything else that makes a chef reluctant to change suppliers.
How do you maintain the balance between making caviar accessible to a broader audience while preserving its status as a luxury product?
Caviar will always be expensive to produce, despite some countries’ best efforts to lower prices. Caviar should be considered like wine; in winemaking, you use grapes, while in caviar production, you use sturgeon. Just like grapes, there are different sturgeon species. Good results come from good farming, and certain species of sturgeon produce better caviar in specific areas, much like grapes.
Could you give examples of how you’ve integrated caviar into culinary experiences in a way that is both innovative and appealing to a wider range of consumers?
A good example is our tasting menu, which we have developed over several years. It has no particular theme, just six small bites that pair well with caviar, almost all of which are surprising choices for the guest – not a blini or caper in sight.
When we shared space with another restaurant that baked amazing sourdough, we offered a “bag of bread and caviar.” Guests could sit outside in the sun and enjoy their choice of caviar along with half a loaf of sourdough and cultivated butter, all served in a simple bag.
The whole presentation initially baffles people, but once they sit down, they understand it; the focus is on the product.
How do you think your chef-driven, consumer-centric approach has changed consumer perceptions about caviar, particularly regarding its accessibility and culinary applications?
I’ve been here for seven years, and I’m not going to imply that I’ve had a massive impact in such a huge country. However, slowly but surely, I am confident we can make a change. Las Vegas has a thriving restaurant scene, and people travel here for inspiration. It was Yoko Ono who popularized the phrase “Think globally, act locally,” though it was actually Patrick Geddes who said it first.
Looking ahead, how do you plan to continue evolving your approach to meet changing consumer trends and preferences in the caviar industry?
I am collaborating with other parties, which I can’t mention yet, to introduce caviar into markets where it’s not typically used, but which makes perfect sense once you think about it. People like to celebrate wherever they are, and like champagne, which transitioned from a once-a-year indulgence to a cheeky glass on a Friday night 30 years ago, caviar enhances that sense of celebration.
In essence, Christian Sandefeldt’s journey in the caviar industry is a testament to the power of innovation, sustainability, and consumer focus. His chef-driven, consumer-centric approach is a revolutionary model in the luxury food market, one that champions quality and sustainability without sacrificing the essence of what makes caviar a revered delicacy. Through his work, Christian not only elevates the culinary experience but also sets a responsible and forward-thinking trend in the world of luxury gastronomy.