Religion in the Russian Food Market


Euromonitor research analyst, Anastasija Goncharova, explains how the Russian food market has been developing rapidly during the last decade. Sales of packaged food grew by over 14% in current value terms annually in the last five years. And it is expected to continue growing by over 9% in current value terms in next five years till 2015.

However, it is important to mention that the market is not only expanding in quantity but it is also changing in structure and quality. New types of products, brands, and specialties are being launched all the time. One of the emerging trends is development of special food for consumers of different religious beliefs or religious events over the country. The products aimed at Orthodox Christians, Muslims or Jews are occupying their niches in the Russian food market.

The majority of Russians are Orthodox Christians or at least consider themselves as being Orthodox. Naturally, products marked as “especially for Orthodox fast” are popular in the country. The Russian Orthodox Church does not make any specific requirements for everyday meals, but food for Lent or other fasting periods is strictly regulated. In some years, the number of fasting days adds up to as high as 200 per year. Food that does not contain meat or any other animal fats becomes high in demand. These foods include:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs

About 12-21% of the Russian population, approximately over 17 million consumers, try to fast each year.

Special counters that stock only animal fat-free products appear in super and hypermarkets well before Easter and Christmas, the two largest fasting holidays. The range of products labeled “suitable for fasting” is very wide:

  • Mayonnaise Ready-to-eat salads
  • Vegetable-based chilled ready meals
  • animal fat-free spreads
  • cookies
  • bread
  • chocolate
  • sugar confectionery
  • sausages

Naturally, sales of meat and processed meat products during fasting periods. Recently, consumer foodservice outlets have also started offering special menus for their costumers during fasting periods.

Sauces are one area where the offer of products “suitable for fasting” is the widest. Russians use mayonnaise or sour cream in a majority of traditional salads or appetisers, therefore, almost all manufacturers started including animal fat-free sauces, as part of their product portfolio, not limited to just periods of fasting.

Moreover, all these products are perfectly suitable for vegetarians or vegans and for people dieting, as they contain less fat; and for people who embrace healthy eating, as they do not contain any cholesterol, and include only natural ingredients.

Food suitable for Christian religious festivals is not the only type of food targeted at religious groups. There are 18 million Muslims living in Russia as well. Specific food with special strict requirements for ingredients and preparation procedures is also on high demand in the country. The largest retail chains offer Halal food at special counters and the choice is relatively wide. The main share of Halal food is occupied by chicken and chicken products, but other products such as

  • beef
  • bakery products
  • dry milk
  • flour
  • deer
  • quail

are also sold in traditional supermarkets.

Less, but also popular is a segment of kosher food. The market share of these products is very small if compared with other specialty food. One of the reasons for this might be very high prices, as a majority of them are imported to Russia from Western Europe or Israel. Some of these products are available in retail outlets near synagogues or in the largest supermarkets.

It is important to note, that food which is marketed as suitable for one religion, is not necessarily consumed by people of that religion only. These products are considered healthier, fresher, and more natural than traditional Russian cuisine, which is high in fat. Moreover, religious traditions are becoming rather fashionable in Russia after decades of Soviet anti-religious propaganda. Halal or kosher products also gain popularity among ordinary Russian consumers as they are usually perceived as ecologic.

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