Russia embracing seafood festivals to encourage domestic consumption

Published on
January 4, 2019

Russian authorities are trying to encourage the fishing industry and trade businesses to use better practices in production, retail, logistics and marketing to get more Russian fish sold on domestic market which has been experiencing a significant decrease over recent years. 

In the years following Russia’s 2014 imposition of a ban on imported food from the United States, Canada, the European Union, Norway, and Australia, Russia began to dedicate more effort to developing the country’s agricultural sector. Efforts of regulators have been poured, and considerable federal funds have been allocated to improve the performance of the fishery industry as well. Selling more fish in Russia is one of the possible ways to feed the consumers and have fisheries pay more to the budget in taxes. But as figures show sales of seafood have been falling. 

The Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries has come up with a strategy to boost consumption and sales, encompassing numerous marketing channels available and a series of activities. Dubbed “The Russian Fish,” the initiative is intended to bring a new approach to the country’s seafood industry. The Russian Fish brand, if properly promoted, can attract additional Russian consumers to seafood, Shestakov said. He said the organization’s marketing focus will seek to tap into Russia’s historic and cultural ties with seafood. 

Shestakov said, as part of the plan, the government is pursuing closer cooperation betwen Russia’s seafood firms and restaurants and retail chains, working toward eliminating barriers across the supply chain and use modern tools to promote fish to consumers.  

It’s not an entirely new idea. In 2009, the Talex group of companies launched a project to establish 250 seafood shops throughout the country that would sell high-quality fish at affordable prices. The project was supported by the government, which was worried by the disbalance in seafood pricing and the absence of cheap, quality fish in the central part of Russia. But the project was closed in 2012 after the opening of 100 shops due to low demand and logistical challenges. 

In 2015, the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries took a different tack, turning to one of the most effective and easiest marketing channels – open-air events. The Fish Week festival was first held in Moscow, and then in various other cities across the country, including Kazan, St. Petersburg, Ufa, and Arkhangelsk. Similar festivals are conducted simultaneously at several sites in each city and feature marketplaces, seafood courts, lectures, master classes, and other kinds of activities targeted at addressing issues of cooking fish and the benefits for health it brings. Major seafood producers and retail chains are often heavily involved in the organization of the events.

Thus far, results from the festivals have been encouraging. For example, the Fish Week in Moscow in May 2018 attracted more one million visitors, who collectively bought 85 MT of seafood.

Seeking to build on the success, the government created additional festivals. For example, The Day of the Far East in Moscow, in which seafood was prominently featured, took place in the capital in 2017. The festival was also deemed a success, as sales were brisk, with special attention drawn to seafood that is harder to find in Moscow.

In St. Petersburg, many big business and political events are now accompanied by seafood marketplaces, including the famous annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, and the II Global Fishery Forum and Seafood Expo Russia in September 2018, which was visited by Russian President Vladimir Putin and other political leaders.

Generally, these festivals demonstrated that despite price and generational challenges, demand for seafood does exist in Russia, but that seafood must be marketed creatively and actively. 

Restaurants are another important marketing channel Russian fishery authorities want to deploy to raise sales.  The restaurant industry in Russia, a country with great amount of high net-worth individuals and a large upper-middle class, is rather well-developed, especially in big cities. 

Restaurants are great places to get customers to try seafood products he or she has never tasted before, Shestakov said at a recent meeting with restaurant managers and owners. He called on them to widen their menus by including more seafood dishes. He also proposed organizing seasonal festivals at restaurants to promote pollock, halibut, flounder, calamari, greenling, grenadier, capelin, herring, mackerel, and iwashi.

The restauranteurs in attendance liked all the ideas, but cited a few serious problems preventing them from selling more seafood dishes. Arkady Novikov – one of the most famous restauranteurs in Russia – shared his experience of opening a seafood outlet, which eventually was converted into a pan-Asian restaurant, as the owner was not able to ensure smooth delivery of fish from the Russian Far East. Despite that frustration, Novikov added that seafood was in demand in the country, so the sector is promising. 

Sergey Mironov, the owner of Meat&Fish restaurant chain, cited many of the same problems as Novikov He complained about the absence of fish suppliers able to keep prices stable for at least six months. Price volatility can be very serious and harmful, which destabilizes business, Mironov said. An additional problem Mironov has found at his restaurants is that his cooks have no experience dealing with certain species. 

At the end of the meeting, Shestakov called for dialogue between regulators and restauranteurs to be continued in order to produce joint actions and closer cooperation. 

Photo courtesy of 2do2go

Reporting from Saint Petersburg, Russia

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