Times may be tough in some industries, but not in the snail sector. Exports of Lithuanian snails are booming, thanks to an escargot-starved French public, and Lithuania has become one of the leading snail exporters in Central and Eastern Europe.
The business has become something of a niche market for Lithuania, as few nearby countries, including Latvia and Estonia, can compete.
The country has four factories that deal with processing snails, most of them bound for French restaurants and shops. Lithuania also imports snails from Latvia, Belarus, Kaliningrad and Ukraine and prepares them for export to Switzerland, Italy and Greece.
Camargo, a French backed company that employs 60 workers, has a small factory in the town of Bezdonys, just outside Vilnius. It buys snails from May to July, the months during which the Environmental Protection Ministry allows snail hunting in Lithuanian forests.
Snails must be from 28 to 40 millimeters in length. Those not used are set free in the forests. Marius Andrijauskas, director of Camargo, said his firm exports all of its production to France. He said it could increase local sourcing if it were not for state restrictions.
"The ministry permits all four Lithuanian factories to gather 500 tons of snails. Almost all this production is exported, mostly to France," said Andrijauskas. "We could collect many more snails in Lithuania if not for the ban by the Environmental Protection Ministry. This is why we import some additional quantities from neighboring countries."
Andrijauskas added that, while there is a well-developed snail business in Poland and Rumania, it is virtually unknown in Estonia. Furthermore, there is just one company in Kaliningrad, but it just collects snails and sends them to Lithuania for processing.
In France, one kilogram of prepared snails is sold for 17 litas (5 euros) - 21 litas .
Local pensioners and students, the main providers of snail supplies for Camargo, receive 1 litas per kilogram.