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Caravai in China

Do Russian food products have a sales prospect in China?

Caravai in China
Photo: Mikhail Karpechenko, Evgeny Goncharov
Perhaps the pioneer in promoting its products in China was the largest brewing company in Russia, which sells its brands of beer from the Baltic to the Sea of ​​Japan. Back in the mid-2000s, this company opened its sales office in Beijing. I don’t see that since then this brand's beer has taken any strong position in the Chinese market, but the fact that it is present there in small volumes is an indisputable fact. What is ten years in such a difficult business, what is the competition with several dozen popular names of Chinese, American, English, German and Japanese beer.



In those years, there was a case of an attempt to enter the Chinese market for the products of one of the mills of the Altai Territory. Then I lived in Beijing. On one of the forums, the owner of this enterprise wrote to me and asked me to help in establishing links with the purchasing departments of Chinese grocery store chains. I immediately warned him, explaining that the proposed deliveries of flour in the amount of one or two or three wagons per year would hardly be of interest to Chinese partners, for whom such an offer is a slight sneeze unworthy of their attention.

My vis-a-vis did not believe and wished to see the situation personally on the spot. The result of his one-week stay in Beijing was the rejection of these plans. They accepted him, listened to him, promised to think over his proposal. And instantly forgotten. Thus, one of the first attempts to bring Altaic flour to the domestic market of the People's Republic of China ended, and never began.



However, Russian food products in those years in Beijing were sold in small shops with "loud" names "Brothers", "Jura" and "Senya" located near the Russian embassy in China and on the commercial Russian-speaking street Yabaolu. Chocolate, cheese, mayonnaise, sausages, canned food and vodka were brought in an informal way - in the personal baggage of tourists.

Especially it should be said about the Russian products sold in Harbin. Thanks to the enthusiasm of Russian specialists and the courage of Chinese entrepreneurs in this city with Russian roots, you can buy bread "Russian loaf" and smoked sausages "Churin" ("Churin and Co." - a trading company that had a chain of shops, bakeries and sausage shops in the Far East of Russia Empire and in Manchuria in the late XIX - early XX century). Recipe - Russian, production - Chinese. But the tastes of the Chinese from Heilongjiang Province preserved the historical memory of the times of the Sino-Eastern Railway. As far as I know, attempts to promote these brands of bakery and sausage products in the central and southern provinces of China have not been successful.

The turning point of the penetration of Russian products into the domestic Chinese market is 2014-15. The exchange rate of the yuan to the ruble jumped by half, respectively, in the same amount of cheap Russian food. Russian media are full of headlines such as "Russian products are going to China", "China has started a boom in Russian products." 

In the border cities of China Suifenhe, Heihe and Manchuria, retail and small wholesale stores of Russian products were opened. Passing customs formalities for commercial consignments, the observance of which would have ruined the case, the trunks and boxes with products from Russia were dragged by the same shuttle traders.

The oil in the frenzy of Russian products in China was poured by a box of Russian ice cream, which President of Russia Vladimir Putin 4 September 2016, before the G20 summit, presented the chairman of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping. This news became the top in the RIA Novosti and Xinhua tapes, eclipsing all other world events. In China, there immediately appeared an advertisement with the image of Putin eating ice cream.

As it is sung in one Odessa song, music did not last long. The theme of the expansion of Russian products to China has gradually come to naught.

Without looking at the statistics, I can say that the Russian food products supplied from Russia, from the total volume of food supplies in the domestic market of China, do not even make the same statistical error. Figuratively speaking, imagine the composition of the railway cars surrounding the globe, and consider in it a hundred or two wagons from Russia.

Why will Russian food in the foreseeable future not become widespread in China? Here I must make a reservation: it's about ready-to-eat foods. Soybeans and unprocessed seafood - commodity raw materials from Russia - China will buy in any volumes.



At first. Sweets, sausages, canned goods, the same ice cream, produced and consumed in Russia and in China - two big differences to taste. The Chinese are conservative in their food preferences, and buy European products only as exotic, out of curiosity, as a gift to friends, which means, in minimal quantities.

Secondly. To promote the domestic Chinese market of foreign food, a long-term marketing campaign is needed, including broad advertising, first-stage dumping prices and an extensive trading network. Such opportunities, for example, have Chinese branches of American food retail chain Walmart and French Carrefour. There is nothing even a bit like Russia in China.

Thirdly. Foreign food products are not imported to China, but are produced locally under a license. At the same time, a foreign brand must be so popular that the Chinese do not have the temptation to develop their own analogue of a product with a Chinese name, but they can. And in terms of copyright protection, China is not an ideal country yet. For example, there are numerous Chinese counterfeits of one of the most popular brands of Russian chocolate, and fakes of one of the confectionary factories in Primorye appeared.

And to import from another country, especially in summer, a perishable product like ice cream is generally nonsense. Will there appear in the near future purely Chinese ice cream "Santa Claus" or "Snowman"? Quite possibly.

Nevertheless, there are Russian products in China. In addition to shops in border towns, Altai flour and pasta, sunflower and soybean oil, chocolates and cookies, fruit and vegetable juices and beer, instant coffee and tea bags (this is what I don’t understand in the homeland of tea!) Can be bought in Harbin and Beijing. And several dozen shops on the Taobao Internet platform completely cover the demand of the rest of China.
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