Overfishing has ruined sturgeon stock, particularly in the world's largest saltwater lake, the Caspian Sea. This led to a massive global shortage of sturgeon roe with production of wild caviar falling from 3,000 tonnes a year in the 1970s to virtually nothing.
With traditional suppliers Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran unable to meet demand, Viet Nam is looking to expand its rapidly evolving aquaculture industry.
“Asians have a long and significant history in rare, seafood delicacies and there is no reason why Caviar would not become a part of refined local tastes,” Gall added.
Viet Nam also has a well-earned reputation for developing and harnessing products like catfish and coffee beans for international markets, often upsetting traditional suppliers.
Brazil blames Viet Nam for bullying its way onto the coffee market resulting in gluts and low prices while in the United States the fishing industry has stifled imports of Vietnamese catfish, forcing producers to re-label their products as ‘Tra’ or ‘Basa’, following years of argument.
“Vietnamese products are often of a terrific quality and that's what bothers, competing suppliers,” one Western trader who declined to be named said. “Particularly those who have long held a monopoly on their markets.
“However, it's different with sturgeon roe and caviar. The world has run out of caviar and Viet Nam – and there's a few other countries too ... have stepped in and are filling a vacuum. It's been a clever investment and they stand to do well.”
European and Middle East countries alongside the United States, Russia, Israel, Hong Kong and Uruguay have also entered the market and established their own farms with demand booming, especially after 2008 when a global ban on sturgeon fishing was imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Industry analysts said Viet Nam had already become a major player by getting in early and, although industry figures are far from exact, Hanoi counts its caviar industry among the top 10 in the world with plans to produce a third of the world's harvest – estimated by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society at between 250 and 400 tonnes a year.
The entire Vietnamese industry produces perhaps 20 tonnes a year.
“I believe consideration to food miles and carbon footprints needs to also be given due consideration when you consider where most of the world's caviar is coming from,” Gall said.
“Caviar in Viet Nam is closer to markets in Asia and Australia and critically reduces the food miles to transport it to market.”