Crawfish have triggered the appetites of Chinese diners again this year, especially for diners of the crustaceans-which resemble small lobsters-from Hubei province.

The province hit hardest by COVID-19 recently lifted its outbound travel restrictions. A major producer of about half of the country’s crawfish has resumed selling the product in the region and across the nation.

So far, Hubei has delivered more than 4,000 metric tons of crawfish to at least 360 cities across the country. Forty-six special transportation lines that link Hubei with Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces have resumed operations. The daily sales volume of crawfish from Hubei exceeded 650 tons, data from the local agricultural department showed.

Hubei has enjoyed a reputation for its top quality agricultural and aquacultural products. It breeds crawfish and grows rice, grain and oil, vegetables, fruits and lotus roots.

Crawfish have started to mature. The period between May and September is the peak season for consumption.

With the coronavirus outbreak steadily receding, the catering sector in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, is springing back to life. In the past week, the volume of food delivery orders in Wuhan jumped three times over the level of the previous week and 60 percent of the orders were booked late at night, according to online food-delivery platform Meituan Dianping.

“Crawfish, hot dry noodles, barbecue and hotpot are the favorites of local residents. Crawfish restaurants saw their food delivery orders surge 11 times higher than the previous week,” Meituan Dianping said.

Several renowned crawfish restaurants in Wuhan have reopened for business through take-out deliveries, and some restaurants opted to remain open all night.

One restaurant said it received more than 100 take-out orders daily, higher than the level of 60 at the same time last year. Since local residents have been under lockdown for two months, they are eager to order popular dishes, Meituan Dianping said.

The platform found that in February, most people in Wuhan ordered surgical masks, medicines and groceries for delivery. Since late March, online orders have changed to various food items and drinks.

Crawfish can be cooked in a variety of ways and flavors. It could be spicy or contain minced garlic. It could also be cooked with salted egg yolk.

A warm winter and spring this year encouraged crawfish to forage earlier than before so the quality is expected to be better than usual, industry participants who breed crawfish in China said.

The China unit of US retail giant Walmart said it is purchasing fresh crawfish from Hubei and other areas. Next week, crawfish will be available at its brick-and-mortar supermarkets nationwide, through online orders and home deliveries.

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group said it would purchase crawfish worth 1 billion yuan ($140 million) from Hubei. In late April, the crawfish will be available on its platforms such as Hema Fresh, Taobao, Tmall and Eleme.

Online shopping platform Taobao will sell 120 tons of agricultural products from Hubei, backed by its livestreaming sales promotion events.

“Crawfish is one of the favorite foods on Chinese dining tables. New flavors will meet the demand of young people who crave for something fresh, and it will help to enlarge the scale and eating frequencies of consumers,” said Neil Wang, president of consultancy Frost& Sullivan China.

“Besides traditional spending at restaurants and supermarkets, online shopping for crawfish is showing considerable growth potential with the support of increasingly mature cold-chain distribution and delivery systems,” he said.

He added that major e-commerce retailers also face some challenges in selling crawfish, given intense competition in the sector.

One such challenge is that fresh products are difficult to store, and this imposes high requirements on retailers to guarantee the quality and safety of their products.

Medical experts said there is no need to worry about the safety of agricultural products produced in Hubei. The coronavirus needs to survive in a host such as a human body. Once it leaves the host, it will die within a few hours, they said.

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