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By Astrid Wendlandt
PARIS (Reuters) - A surge in production and cut-price deals from supermarkets are bringing caviar to the mass market.
But that doesn't bother Petrossian, one of the world's oldest and largest caviar specialists, which sells the delicacy from its oak-walled boutique near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
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"The more people eat caviar the better," says moustachioed owner Armen Petrossian, son of the brand's Armenian founder.
"Then they can tell the difference between high-quality and lower quality caviar," he adds, amid a steady stream of phone calls from customers placing orders ahead of Christmas.
Petrossian's 30-gram tin of Chinese caviar costs 54 euros ($57) and its Bulgarian Beluga "Special Réserve" 384 euros.
Last week, German discount supermarket Lidl offloaded thousands of 15-gram tins of Italian caviar for just 9.99 euros apiece.
Petrossian says prices of caviar, or sturgeon eggs, have halved over the past five years due to a jump in production.
Once dominated by the Soviet Union and Iran, sturgeon farming has spread to countries from Switzerland to Vietnam, and the United States to the United Arab Emirates.
World output, just over 100 tonnes around five years ago, is now more than 250 and is set to reach 500 by 2020, says Philippe Chauvin, head of the Comptoir du Caviar chain, citing data from the International Caviar Importers' Association.
But that is bringing challenges.
"Many investors have plowed money into this business thinking it was the goose with the golden eggs but in fact, profitability is not the same as it was five years ago," says Laurent Dulau, chief executive of Sturia, France’s leading caviar producer.
Market experts predict consolidation among producers, which now total more than 100 against a handful two decades ago - with the big fish eating the little fish to preserve margins.
(Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Mark Potter)