Have Caviar, Will FedEx

Jun 6, 2000


Have Caviar, Will FedEx

By Ahmad Diba

June 26, 2000

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Luxury should be easy: Whatever it is that you want, you shouldn't have to budge from your divan to pick it up. In that spirit, FORTUNE tested a variety of Websites for service and quality of beluga caviar (still the ne plus ultra of conspicuous consumption). We selected only those that deliver anywhere in the U.S. and offer a decent selection.

The most famous caviar store in the world is the Paris-headquartered Petrossian (petrossian.com). Founded in the 1920s by a pair of Armenian brothers, it now sports branches in New York, Las Vegas, and Florida as well as a snazzy, streamlined Website. But despite its vaunted reputation, Petrossian's caviar was a disappointment. With tiny grains, viscous consistency, and salty flavor, this roe was hardly beluga malasol (meaning "little salt") and not worth the $71 per ounce.

Caviar Express (caviarexpress.org), based in Encino, Calif., offers a solid mixture of quality and affordability. Granted, the "buy one tin, get the second half-price" policy may take some of the luster off--the smallest tin is two ounces for $120--but who can resist excess at a discount? The only drawback is that you can't order directly off the Web; you must endure actually printing a form and then faxing it.

For quality, Paramount's caviar (paramountcaviar.com) unquestionably stood head and shoulders above the rest, with large, tender grains, mild taste, and smooth texture. This delicious product runs $60 an ounce and is available from the company's Website or through Caviar Direct (caviar-direct.com), a reliable delivery service. Paramount's quality explains why it is the preferred supplier of many of New York City's top restaurants.

When we called New York-based Caviarteria (caviarteria.com), the company must have been mired in a really bad week. First, our order was completely neglected (which is why we had to call them--it wasn't until then that they discovered that their computers were down). To Caviarteria's credit, the salespeople did manage a rush order; on the other hand, the delivery site was only a few blocks away. In the end, the caviar was just a step below Paramount's in quality. But at $78 per ounce, this is not the pampering you expect or deserve.

Finally, there's Brooklyn-based Just Caviar (justcaviar.com). It priced beluga at $29.75 per ounce, cheaper if you buy more (17.5 ounces cost just $375). While the caliber of the caviar wasn't nearly as attractive as the price, Just Caviar remains the best place to buy bulk when quality isn't your first priority. Order in advance, because Just Caviar also tacks a processing delay of four to five days onto the overnight delivery time. When we called to check our order, an elderly woman advised us in broken English to try again after 8 P.M. Following her instructions, we finally spoke to a salesperson who explained the apparent lack of brick-and-mortar resources by saying, "We're a real Internet company."