From caviar to chicken nuggets: discounted restaurant produce hits retail market

James Marinopoulos, co-owner of Red Coral Seafoods with prime Mooloooolaba yellowfin tuna.
James Marinopoulos, co-owner of Red Coral Seafoods with prime Mooloooolaba yellowfin tuna.  Photo: Christopher Hopkins

Food lovers who have longed to cook with the octopus used at MoVida, or buy the same beluga caviar served on first-class flights are in luck as food wholesalers make high-end restaurant produce more accessible to the public.

"Almost every food service distributor in Australia is trying to pivot their business for home delivery or click-and-collect due to loss of revenue caused by coronavirus restrictions" says John Susman, managing director of national seafood marketing, sales and consultancy company Fishtales.

"Despite the fact it's a tragedy for restaurants, the lockdown means more people are going to be preparing meals at home and they can experience the joy of cooking with premium produce."

One of those home delivery services is Melbourne Food Squad, an online marketplace created last Sunday by the team at Red Coral Seafood, which supplies fish to hatted restaurants such as MoVida and Atlas Dining. 

"We wanted to do something to help all the other suppliers we know who no longer have restaurants to sell to," says Red Coral sales manager James Marinopoulos. "We started with basic fish, meat and vegetable boxes but the website quickly expanded as more wholesalers reached out to us. Even McCain got in touch to list their frozen products."

Items available for delivery on the Melbourne Food Squad website range from chicken nuggets once destined for the kids' menus to Cuca brand sardines imported from Spain. Top-tier highlights include Skull Island prawns, Mooloolaba yellowfin tuna, Pialligo Farm bacon and Nichols farm free-range chooks, raised in Tasmania and used by Australia's best restaurants including the three-hatted Quay in Sydney.

Flinders + Co carbon neutral meat products will be available soon, plus Mount Zero Olives and beer from independent brewers, says Marinopoulos. "It's a big circle with everyone chipping in so producers can keep producing."

Other premium seafood wholesalers ramping up delivery to the general public include Collingwood's Ocean Made which supplies to Attica, Bar Lourinha and Maha chef Shane Delia, while Clamms Seafood is offering discounts on whiting, flathead and prawns. At the pointy end of the market, Simon Johnson Providore in Toorak has reduced the price of all sturgeon caviar by 25 per cent.

"The airlines buying caviar from us for their first-class customers have stopped flying, so customers can expect a lot of specials," says Simon Johnson's caviar ambassador Lisa Downs.

Simon Johnson will also start selling artisan cheese traditionally bought by luxury airline services, and discounts of up to 60 per cent are set to be announced for large format items such as five-litre cans of Colonna olive olive and 450g tins of Ortiz anchovies usually only sold to restaurants.

In spite of increased retail sales, Susman expects suppliers will be hit hard by coronavirus-related restaurant closures - largely due to outstanding bills that most likely never be paid.

"A lot of restaurants have gotten away with using suppliers as a cheap form of finance for a long time. I can name at least 30 seafood distributors around the country that will not be able to recover from this."