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The beer market in Russia: gaining ground

Alcohol – and particularly vodka – has been an integral part of the Russian food and drink market, and Russian society in general, for hundreds of years. But companies looking to target Russia’s alcohol market should forget their stereotypes, because the market is changing fast – beer in Russia is taking over.

Less vodka, more beer

What happened in 2011 illustrates perfectly the traditional shape of alcohol consumption in Russia. In July of that year, then-President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law that recognised beer as alcohol – before then, it has been classed as a soft drink for licensing and regulatory purposes.

This is arguably common sense, but its timing is important – this was the critical point when beer consumption has grown to the extent that it was troubling sales of Russia’s traditional tipple, vodka. From 2001 to 2011 beer sales in Russia grew 40%, while a third less vodka was bought and consumed in this time period.

Since then, the trend has continued. From January to August 2016, sales of beer actually outstripped those of all spirits combined, not just vodka. Beer accounted for 45% of sales, while the latter category could only manage 42%. While some of this can be explained by seasonality – Russians drink more beer in the summer – the figures show the sheer potential of selling beer in the Russian market.


The beer market in Russia: major players

Regardless of consumption trends, beer is an obvious choice for firms looking to target Russia – while foreign brands can and do compete in the vodka market, almost all in the premium sector, Russians are used to drinking beer of international origin.

That being said, the market’s biggest player is the St. Petersburg-based Baltika brewer (owned by Carlsberg), with 37% of the market according to Euromonitor International. The three next biggest are all foreign – Efes, Heineken, and San InBev, with 13%, 11% and 11% marker shares respectively.

Much of this volume is produced under licence in Russian breweries, but for imports the picture is largely the same. Statistics from Russian industry website Pivnoe Delo show that AB InBev’s share of the import market grew substantially in 2016, helped by the global behemoth’s 2014 acquisition and subsequent merging of two brands that enjoy great popularity in Russia – Franziskaner and Spaten. Powered by InBev’s fearsome distribution networks, Spaten went on to become the largest imported brand in the Russian market in 2015.


Craft beer coming to Russia?

Nowhere is immune from bearded brewers – the craft beer sensation can count Russia, and particularly Moscow, as its latest territory. Since 2014, several bars dedicated to selling small-batch beer have opened in Moscow, drawing in drinkers with relatively cheap prices (around 200 roubles a pint) and a change from the standard drinking experience in the capital. This side of the market is still very small-scale – the Guardian estimated in 2016 that there were around two dozen craft beer bard in Moscow, and a handful more in St. Petersburg and the rest of the country – but it could present serious opportunities for foreign brands to tap into a growing market.


Reach Russian beer distributors at WorldFood Moscow 2017

This shows that foreign brands, both large and small, have a great chance of success in the Russian market. The demand is taken care of, but what about business contacts?

The WorldFood Moscow exhibition, which will next run in September 2017, attracts tens of thousands of distributors, wholesalers and buyers from across Russia’s food and drink industry – so taking part is a great opportunity to get your brews into Russian bars. Read more about the exhibition and how you can take part here.


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Tony Higginson

International Sales Director


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