Sushinomics Data Show New Yorkers Are Still Getting a Raw Deal



A sushi dinner in the tri-state area doesn’t come cheap: New York and Greenwich, Connecticut, are atop Bloomberg’s Sushinomics indexes for the fourth straight year.

The average price of two standard sushi menu items, California rolls and spicy tuna rolls, was $8.68 in New York, the highest of 28 major U.S. cities in Bloomberg’s Sushinomics Cost-of-Living Index, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Los Angeles was the second-most-expensive, followed by San Francisco, Seattle and Miami.

Greenwich again led the Sushinomics Premium Priced Index, which ranks cities by restaurants’ two most expensive sushi rolls. The priciest offerings there run an average of $17.69. Consumers in Los Angeles, ranked second, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, ranked third, also pay more than $17.

At Cagen Japanese, a fine-dining restaurant in New York’s East Village that serves its signature omakase tasting menus for $130 to $140, chef Toshio Tomita said a number of factors keep Japanese cuisine in New York pricey.

More than 90 percent of the fish Cagen serves is shipped overnight from Japan. International shipping and special packing -- the fish are kept cool on beds of ice -- don’t come cheap. Tomita said his colleagues in Los Angeles pay less in shipping because the fish don’t travel as far. Some competing restaurants also place orders together to get cheaper rates, but Tomita buys alone because his signature selections include some less-common varieties of fish.

“Japanese red snapper, sea urchin -- we can get those any place,” Tomita said. “I try to get different fish.”

Higher Rents

Rent also adds up. Tomita’s son Rei, who helps manage the restaurant, said that while Cagen’s location in the East Village is cheaper than it would be in Midtown, “New York is still New York.”

New York’s basic sushi prices were 26 percent higher than the national average of $6.90 and up 3.7 percent from a year earlier. New Orleans ranked as the cheapest U.S. sushi city for the fourth straight year, with prices 25 percent below the national average.

The average price of basic sushi in all of the cities rose

2.2 percent in the past year, according to the index. That trailed the 3 percent inflation for all food away from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite the growing popularity of high-protein fare and fresh ingredients, sushi remains a niche among American diners, accounting for just 129 million of 61 billion restaurant meals last year, said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst at NPD Group.

Not Mainstream

“It is not the growth category that I thought it would be,” Riggs said. “I’m sure it’s popular with a certain group of people, but it’s not gone mainstream.”

The industry is expected to grow 2.3 percent in the next five years as disposable incomes continue to rise and diners stay interest in fresh food, market research firm IbisWorld Inc. said in a December 2014 report.

One bright spot for sushi lies not in restaurants, but in supermarket refrigerators. Greg Neal, northeast regional manager at Genji Sushi, which operates sushi bars in Whole Foods Market Inc. locations in 19 states, said his company has seen year-over-year growth of more than 10 percent in the 12 years it’s supplied Whole Foods.

While sushi sales are swiftest on the coasts, interest in the heartland is growing, especially as Genji offers more alternatives to raw fish, he said. Shrimp tempura is among the bestsellers at most stores, and vegetarian options also are growing in popularity.

“It’s one of those things that’s becoming more and more commonplace, and it’s not just restaurant-style sushi,” he said.

The Sushinomics Cost-of-Living Index in 28 cities and their rankings, with 100 as the national average from the index’s first year in 2011.

New York               141.72
Los Angeles            131.28
San Francisco          123.11
Seattle                122.29
Miami                  120.83
Dallas                 117.24
Phoenix/Tempe          115.43
Sacramento             114.13
Boston                 113.81
Austin                 113.65
Atlanta                112.17
Orlando                110.86
Houston                110.70
Denver                 110.22
Chicago                109.56
Minneapolis/St. Paul   109.56
Washington             108.09
St. Louis              105.32
Philadelphia           104.49
Charlotte              100.25
Wilmington/Dover        99.43
Portland                98.46
San Jose                95.51
Columbus                92.09
New Orleans             84.91
Overall                110.60

The Sushinomics Premium Price Index in 30 cities and their rankings according to average price of restaurants’ two most expensive rolls.

Greenwich              $17.69
Los Angeles            $17.37
Minneapolis/St. Paul   $17.13
Dallas                 $16.61
Boston                 $16.53
Houston                $16.53
New York               $16.34
Miami                  $16.24
San Francisco          $16.20
Chicago                $15.96
Atlanta                $15.59
Charlotte              $15.56
Sacramento             $15.55
Orlando                $15.49
Philadelphia           $15.48
Denver                 $15.24
Wilmington/Dover       $15.10
New Orleans            $15.01
Seattle                $14.96
Stamford               $14.83
San Jose               $14.80
St. Louis              $14.72
Columbus               $14.57
Austin                 $14.52
Washington             $14.35
Phoenix/Tempe          $14.31
Portland               $13.91
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