$400 Hairy Crabs Selling Out in China as Consumers Splurge

Late in the afternoon on a recent weekday, workers at an aquaculture farm near Shanghai used long pincers to move 300-gram crabs from muddy ponds into small pools of freshwater. By morning, the crabs – their shells cleansed of dirt – will be packed into gift boxes and shipped to customers all over China.

These are no ordinary crustaceans: They’re hairy crabs, a delicacy that can cost as much as 2,700 yuan ($400) for a box of eight and can only be purchased for a few weeks in autumn. Prices for some of the most popular crabs have doubled compared to a year ago.

Even as China’s economic growth slows amid Covid-19, the pandemic has been good for farm owner Ma Mingjun’s business. In normal years, many Chinese give hairy crabs as gifts to special relatives, important customers or government officials, but now big-spending consumers who haven’t been able to shop in Paris or Milan are treating themselves to more home-grown luxuries.

“Almost all the hairy crabs in our pools have been reserved, much faster than last year,” Ma said. “To offset the frustration of travel restrictions, many customers are buying bigger crabs to share with their families.”

Demand for hairy crabs in China was about 120 billion yuan last year and is expected to reach 150 billion yuan this year, according to consultancy AskCI Consulting. The bestseller this year costs 1,600 yuan per box, up from 800 yuan in 2019.