After Food Import Ban, Russians Brace for Life Without Western Delights

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Anton Troianovski, Alexander Kolyandr and Olga Razumovskaya

MOSCOW-- Natalia Lanskaya, a 42-year-old television worker, tossed packages of Camembert, Brie and Italian blue cheese into her shopping cart. She said she hoped her purchases would keep for a while.

"If the situation is not over, we'll be able to happily recall that there were times when we had these products," Ms. Lanskaya said.

People in Russia began to adjust to a new reality Thursday. For more than two decades, Russians have embraced the Italian ham, French cheese and off-season fruit that appeared in grocery stores after the Soviet Union's fall. As a result, Thursday's ban on Western meat, dairy and produce imports seemed a bit like a step back in time to some.

Restaurateurs wondered where they were going to get their Parmesan once the last of existing supplies were snapped up. The Moscow Zoo said it feared a shortage of fish and exotic fruit to feeditsanimals. Meanwhile, a 25-year-old Californian living in Moscow, who gave her name only as Amy, took to the Internet to Google, "Can you freeze sheep's cheese?"

"Once it's gone, it's gone," Amy said as she waited at the cheese counter at a high-end Moscow grocery store after having grabbed five one-liter bottles of French goat's milk.

For many Russians, the one-year ban on many Western food products ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin in retaliation for Western sanctions was likely to have little direct impact.

Mainstream grocery stores said most of their sales were domestic or from non-sanctioned countries in Central Asia and elsewhere. Large food producers such as French yogurt giant Danone SA have established production facilities within Russia.

"Most of the population is oriented anyway to simple products, and these products are either produced in Russia or in countries with which there are no problems," said Olga Kamenchuk, director for international research at state-run pollster Vtsiom.

Amid the patriotic atmosphere whipped up by state media in recent months, some Russians said they weren't interested in buying Western food anyway. "I don't need all that," a woman who gave her name as Marina said, motioning to a wall of high-price Kellogg's cereal in a Moscow supermarket. As for foreign meat, she said, "ours is better anyway."

Yekaterina Kumanina, head of external relations at Russian retailer Dixy Group, said fruit would be the hardest to replace. As much as half of its fruit is imported from Europe at certain times in the year, she said. Yet she put a positive spin on the ban: "The market will get an opportunity to offer the customer new brands, products and flavors."

For some of the 6,000 animals at the Moscow Zoo, the food outlook was less certain. A zoo spokeswoman told the Russian state news agency that it depended on imports for fish and exotic fruits to feed its creatures. Now the zoo is trying to find alternative sources for those goods.

"At the current time, the animals are not going hungry," the spokeswoman was quoted as saying.

There was also confusion about what would happen in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Lithuania. Because of its geography, the region relies on imports from the European Union more than the rest of Russia. Russian Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov said Russia might make an exception to the food ban there, Interfax reported.

It is restaurateurs across Russia who have embraced Western cuisine who may now have the most to lose.

"I think in a good restaurant you must have good meat, good wine, good coffee and good toilet paper," said Tatyana Patochnikova, an owner of several restaurants in central Moscow. "The first one is already hurt, and I can't exclude that the rest will follow."

Pavel Dykman, 28, a restaurateur with 24 locations in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, said Thursday that he had just gotten off the phone with his chef, "who was in a bit of a panic and asked me what kind of lunacy was going on."

Mr. Dykman said the quality of his fish, cheese, desserts, and cream would all suffer. His Italian restaurants, which largely depend on imports, will have to switch ingredients.

"The food won't be as delicious," Mr. Dykman said.

Mr. Fyodorov, the agriculture minister, urged calm. Asked by a Russian reporter whether restaurants would continue to serve high-quality beef, he said that Russia was in advanced talks with countries not on the sanctions list. "Just as you used to eat in good restaurants," Mr. Fyodorov said, "so you will continue to eat your fill. Bon app├ętit."

Andrey Ostroukh and Nonna Fomenko contributed to this article. Anton Troianovski, Alexander Kolyandr and Olga Razumovskaya


  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
  08-07-141711ET
  Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


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