Food for thought for Russian entrepreneur

By WU YONG and YUAN HUI in Hohhot | China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-25 08:14

Anna Barysheva loves her job promoting Russian food to Chinese customers after living in the country for 13 years.

The 28-year-old Russian graduated from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, with an MBA and is now the general manager at the newly established FRC International Trading Ltd company.

Based in Shanghai, the retailer imports Russian food through the border city of Manzhouli in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.

"I thought there was a promising market to explore after seeing the boom in Russian chocolates, bread and soda in Northeast China," Barysheva said.

FRC was set-up by a group of Russian businessmen and employs dozens of workers.

The retailer has yet to release detailed financial figures, but the target is to hit sales worth $200 million in the next three years and stock up to 2,000 products.

Key to the company's success has been Manzhouli, which runs along the border between China and Russia.

The city has become a major trading hub between the two countries with food products and beverages flowing in.

In the neighboring free trade zone, hundreds of stalls provide products such as Russian flour, sunflower seed oil, chocolates and honey.

Indeed, data from the Chinese Customs revealed that the world's second largest economy bought food and beverage goods worth more than $1.13 billion from Russia last year.

This was an increase of 22 percent compared to 2015 as China became the largest foreign buyer of Russian food.

A favorable ruble and yuan exchange rate also made Russian delicacies relatively cheap.

"Russian food is high quality but costs less compared with European products," said Cheng Xiaoman, a Shenyang housewife.

She bought a box of Tiramisu cakes last winter and has just ordered chocolates and sugar.

Popular shopping items are corn flakes, sandwich waffles, sunflower seeds, jams and baby food, according to Barysheva at FRC

"The key challenge is to set up sales channels and increase market share now," she said.

Apart from the competitive ruble, close cooperation between China and Russia has provided a boost to the food sector.

In March, a trade agreement opened the door for Russian agricultural produce, while the Belt and Road Initiative is likely to expand imports in the future.

As for Barysheva at FRC, she has set up an e-commerce platform, Open Russian Doll, to cater for more customers and clients online.

"This will help boost sales and bring down logistics costs," she said, adding that she hopes to wheel out her own brands in the future.

Steven Ding, sales manager at FRC, is just as bullish about the company's long-term prospects after signing up more than 25 large supermarkets.

"North China is more familiar with Russia food," he said. "And there is still big growth in the south.

"We expect more consumers will choose our products in the future," Ding added.

Han Jingyan contributed to this story.

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