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Lobster hits highs in May air freight volumes

Pent up demand from Chinese consumers for fresh New Zealand lobster has seen the volume winging its way out of Auckland Airport reach levels not seen since 2015.

The latest air cargo data for May shows more than 300 tonnes of live lobsters were airfreighted to China, up 53 per cent on the same month last year.

The renewed appetite for lobster comes after a tough couple of months for the export industry. The outbreak of COVID-19 saw the shut-down of restaurants in China mid-way through the Chinese New Year celebrations in late January.

Air cargo figures for Auckland Airport show the rapid drop in lobster volumes over the next three months – down 84 per cent in February, -44 per cent in March and -52 per cent in April.

The re-opening of the Chinese hospitality industry in time for the national three-day Labour Day holiday, plus the addition of air cargo capacity into China in May, gave the lobster industry a much-needed boost, says Scott Tasker, general manager aeronautical commercial at Auckland Airport.

“Up to 90 per cent of New Zealand’s lobster exports are sent to overseas markets as air cargo. Most of that is now heading to China, a market that appreciates fresh, high-quality ingredients particularly in the high-end restaurant and hospitality trade.

“A few years ago, much of the New Zealand lobster exported would have been frozen tails sent by sea freight. The shift to live export via air freight means the industry has benefited from an increase in per kilo prices with the added benefit of being able to react quickly to market changes – in this case the re-opening of China after lock-down.”

Overall, Auckland Airport’s international cargo capacity declined 35 per cent year-on-year in May as airlines continued to suspend passenger flights, but month-on-month capacity improved 33 per cent due to more cargo-only flights. In May, 12 airlines operated 307 cargo flights using passenger aircraft, in addition to 117 freighter flights.

“This is consistent with what we’re seeing globally. Looking at the data for May from the International Air Transport Association, global demand for air freight is down around 22 per cent but cargo capacity is down more than 32 per cent meaning there’s a gap between demand and supply.

“It’s the same for the New Zealand market – the crucial cargo capacity provided by passenger aircraft has been parked up and is only being partially backfilled by cargo-only passenger aircraft flights,” says Scott.

Respiratory equipment is currently an export growth driver, recording a (+329 per cent) year-on-year jump in volumes and continues a trend seen since the outbreak of COVID-19. Air freight volumes of respiratory equipment were up year-on-year 94 per cent in January, +162 per cent in February, +393 per cent in March and +553 per cent in April.

Imports of COVID-19 essentials such as surface cleaners and laptops continued to grow but at a slower rate.

As New Zealand came out of lockdown and retailers restocked inventory, imports of textiles, plastic products such as aprons, containers and labware, and sprays and disinfectants showed the biggest growth.

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