French and Ukrainian farms rely on year-end celebrations for as much as 70 percent of their annual sales.

By Jelisa Castrodale
January 04, 2021
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Although the ongoing pandemic has contributed to shortages of everything from aluminum cans to coins to entire refrigerators, it has also had the opposite effect, causing surpluses of food that would've otherwise been sold to restaurants, school districts, and entertainment venues.

Japan has responded to freezers filled with Kobe beef by feeding it to school kids throughout the country, but that approach might not work in France, where heliculturists are trying to decide what to do with all of their extra snails.

According to The Guardian, during a normal year, French snail farmers might do 70 percent of their business in November and December, because escargots are a traditional end-of-year hors d’oeuvre. But in 2020, restaurants were forced to temporarily close, the annual Christmas markets were called off, and the tourist industry all but disappeared entirely, which leaves the country's 400-plus snail farms with thousands of pounds of unsold gastropods.

"The first lockdown took place when the tourist season was about to start and everything stopped,"  Antoine Cousin, the head of Escargots du Bocage, told Terres et Territoires. "Next season has already fallen into the water. We just have to wait until 2022, hoping that things will restart by then." 

Credit: Carlo A/Getty Images

Bruno Thienot, a heliculturist in Besançon, said that he has 2,000 pounds of surplus snails, and he's started putting flyers in people's mailboxes, letting them know that if they happen to need escargot, he's their guy.

“I had never experienced a period like this,” he sighed to L'est Républicain. “I am used to selling my canned food and meat on the main markets. But everything was canceled because of the pandemic. The Instants Gourmands, the Christmas market in Besançon, as well as the Saveurs d'automne in Pouilley-Français, have been canceled. These are three outlets that are disappearing for me."

On top of lost sales and a lot of extra snails, heliculturists say that they have not received any government assistance, the way other small farms and businesses have. Four snail producers' associations wrote to the Ministers of Agriculture and Finance to ask for retroactive financial aid in order to cover their pandemic-related losses, and asking for the snail to be "recognized in the same way as" foie gras, cider, wines, fishing, and aquaculture –– which are all currently eligible to receive financial help.

This situation isn't unique to France, either: snail farms in Ukraine are struggling for the same reasons. Euractiv reports that these fledgling heliculturists sell their snails to restaurants throughout Europe, but those orders haven't been placed this year, due to lockdowns and other restrictions.

“Last year everything was great. This year is the exact opposite,” Sergiy Danileyko, who owns a farm in Ukraine and has a warehouse in Spain, said. He's already lost €55,000 ($67,478) worth of orders, and snails that were meant to be delivered to restaurants are instead "perishing in refrigerators."

Maybe France and Ukraine should try serving snails to schoolkids. Who knows, they might be a big hit.